The Story Of Damien Hirst’s Famous Shark

This shark is considered the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and has become a symbol of Britart worldwide. It was funded by Charles Saatchi who in 1991 had offered to pay for whatever artwork the artist wanted to create. The shark itself cost Hirst £6,000 and the total cost of this work was £50,000. In 2004 it was sold to Steven A. Cohen for an undisclosed amount, widely reported to have been $8 million – or $12 million. The shark was caught off Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia, by a fisherman commissioned to do so. It was supposed to be something “big enough to eat you.”

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Created in 1991 by Damien Hirst, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” is an artwork that consists of a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. Because the shark was initially preserved poorly, it began to deteriorate and the surrounding liquid grew murky. Hirst attributes some of the decay to the fact that the Saatchi Gallery added bleach to it. In 1993 the gallery gutted the shark and stretched its skin over a fiberglass mold, and Hirst commented, “It didn’t look as frightening … You could tell it wasn’t real. It had no weight.” When Hirst learned of Saatchi’s impending sale of the work to Cohen, he offered to replace the shark, an operation which Cohen then funded, calling the expense “inconsequential.”

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