Damien Hirst Formaldehyde Sculptures Beleaguered Reports of Fuzzy Dating

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One of Damien Hirst’s signature works, an $8 million, 13-foot tiger shark split into three sections, each suspended in formaldehyde, serves as a main attraction of the luxury bar at the Palm Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. That work has been thought to been made during the 1990s, the period when Hirst was still on the rise—but now its date has been thrown into question.

This week, the Guardian ran two articles about several Hirst works that were said to have been produced during the 1990s. In fact, the Guardian reported, these works were actually produced more recently, with the Las Vegas work made in 2017, not 1999.

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The Las Vegas shark is the fourth of Hirst’s formaldehyde sculptures to reportedly have a nearly 20-year discrepancy in its dating.

That sculpture first appeared in 2018 under the title The Unknown (Explored, Explained, Exploded) when it was installed at the Palms. The hotel and the sculpture were purchased by Frank J. Fertitta III and his brother Lorenzo Fertitta, the resort and casinos scions who made a fortune when they sold their stakes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2017 for $5 billion, 16 years after the brothers bought them for $2 million.

A representative for the Fertittas did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The works that the Guardian reported had also been misdated are Cain and AbelMyth Explored, Explained, Exploded, and Dove, which feature two calves, a small shark, and a dove, respectively. They were first shown at Gagosian Hong Kong in the 2017 Hirst solo show “Visual Candy and Natural History,” whose announcement said the works were “from the early to mid-1990s.”

A Gagosian spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to the Guardian, Science Ltd., Hirst’s production company, said, “Formaldehyde works are conceptual artworks, and the date Damien Hirst assigns to them is the date of the conception of the work.”

Hirst’s stance on the dating of conceptual works has been consistent over the years, Science Ltd. said. The artist’s lawyers echoed this, telling the Guardian that “the dating of artworks, and particularly conceptual artworks, is not controlled by any industry standard. Artists are perfectly entitled to be (and often are) inconsistent in their dating of works.”

While it is unclear what effect the Guardian reports will have on Hirst, at least one prominent critic appears to have changed his mind on the artist as a result. In recent essay, Guardian critic Jonathan Jones accused Hirst of distorting his work and his reputation.

“Dry, dusty disputes over whether ready-made objects can be art paled into irrelevance before Hirst’s reminders of our fleshy fragility,” Jones wrote. “Yet now we know Hirst has taken a chainsaw to that glorious past… If you ever saw anything in his art, and I used to see plenty, you can’t help feeling betrayed.”

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