09 April 2022

Natural History

Death Denied

Damien Hirst’s fourteen-foot tiger shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, was arguably the most iconic artwork of the 1990s. (When his dealer Charles Saatchi sold it in 2004, Hirst replaced the dilapidated shark with a fresh one.) The shark was one of many dead animals that Hirst preserved in formaldehyde, in a series titled Natural History, and this menagerie has now been reassembled at the Gagosian Gallery in London.

The exhibition isn’t a complete retrospective of the Natural History works—which is just as well, as Hirst has created (or supervised the creation of) plenty of very similar pickled sharks, cows, and sheep over the years. So, in place of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is another tiger shark of the exact same size, this time titled Death Denied. Instead of Away from the Flock—a lonely sheep—there is I Am: another lonely sheep.

The show has received one-star reviews from The Guardian and The Times; perhaps pickling is passé. But even though Hirst is repeating himself, the shark still has a powerful presence. Natural History opened on 9th March and closes on 31st July. The early works from the series were included in Hirst’s monograph I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now.