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22nd March 2022 (6 Topics)

Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde sculptures, their acceptance and criticism


An exhibition titled Natural History at Gagosian Gallery in London brings together the famous formaldehyde sculptures.


About Damien Hirst:

  • Damien Hirst is United Kingdom’s richest living artist.
  • He has produced some of the most controversial artworks of recent years, which includes the much-debated series of formaldehyde sculptures with dead animals.
  • He became the main organiser of the group’s exhibition; ‘Freeze’ that took place in 1988and caught the attention of British advertiser and collector Charles Saatchi.
  • Following his purchase of A Thousand Years, Saatchi had offered to finance any piece of art that Hirst wanted to create.
  • The result was ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, a tiger shark pickled in formaldehyde in a glass case, which was exhibited in 1992 as part of the first Young British Arts (YBA)


  • Though Hirst’s works using animals have been criticised by animal rights activists, the global art market itself is divided.
  • While some animals were dead before Hirst decided to use them, others were killed for his art. 
  • In 2012, Hirst’s exhibition In and Out of Love at Tate Modern had two windowless rooms filled with live butterflies, later reported that more than 9,000 butterflies died during the 23-week exhibition.
  • In 2017, the art market website artnet estimated that Hirst had used almost one million animals for his works.

About Formaldehyde:

  • Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling, flammable chemical that is produced industrially and used in building materials such as particleboard, plywood, and other pressed-wood products. 
  • Uses of formaldehyde:
    • When formaldehyde is dissolved in water, it is called formalin. This formalin is used as a disinfectant in industries, preservative in some food products, funeral home etc.
    • Used in industry
    • Used in medicine
    • Used in building and construction
    • Food and other uses
  • Formaldehyde is found in:
    • Resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products (i.e., hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard);
    • Building materials and insulation;
    • Household products such as glues, permanent press fabrics, paints and coatings, lacquers and finishes, and paper products;
    • Preservatives used in some medicines, cosmetics and other consumer products such as dishwashing liquids and fabric softeners; and
    • Fertilizers and pesticides.
    • It is a byproduct of combustion and certain other natural processes, and so is also found in:
    • Emissions from un-vented, fuel burning appliances, like gas stoves or kerosene space heaters; and
    • Cigarette smoke.

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