Contemporary Art, 1960s–present

Postmodernism and Art

Why did Damien Hirst preserve a tiger shark in formaldehyde solution?

Damien Hirst’s preserved shark piece might not mean much without its title—The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991). Hirst (1965–) garnered early critical success as a member of the Young British Artists, and works in a variety of media, making paintings, prints, sculptures, and installations. Hirst’s “pickled shark,” like much of his work, features dead animals, and is thematically focused on death, and the frailty or fragility of human existence. The once fierce and dynamic shark is now frozen, his dangerous teeth preserved in formaldehyde and kept under glass. A living, breathing beast is now as immobile and impersonal as any other example of ready-made pop art. Hirst’s preserved shark has been criticized by many as a stunt, and by others who claim Hirst’s work shouldn’t even be considered art at all. But, Hirst has been very successful overall, both critically and financially, earning millions of dollars for his pieces, as well as the prestigious British Turner Prize for art in 1995.


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