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A Shark at the Met?


Walking into the Modern Art wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I came across what I thought was a shark tank. For a second I had to step back thinking I entered the American Museum of Natural History by mistake.

But what I encountered was “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” by English artist Damien Hirst. A tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde encased in a glass cabinet.

“Hirst created work that brought together the joy of life and the inevitability of death…A shark in a tank of formaldehyde presented a once life-threatening beast as a carcass: the glass box, half hunting trophy, half homage to the Minimalist object, imposed the gravity of a natural history museum onto an outsized council-house ornament.” 

About three years ago the work “was purchased by the hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, who paid $8 million for it, one of the highest prices at the time for a work of contemporary art.” The original 14 foot tiger shark was then replaced with a 13 footer, because the first shark was never injected with formaldehyde, so it began to decay from the inside. The work is now on view in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Metropolitan Museum for the next three years. It is an interesting piece though I was a bit upset to learn that the first shark was “caught and killed by a fisherman in Australia at Mr. Hirst’s behest in 1991.” This work provides me with two debatable questions:

  1. Killing a living creature for the sake of Art?
  2. Whether the replaced shark is still considered the original work?

Check out the New York Times article “Swimming with Famous Dead Sharks”, which provides a video of the reinstallation.

On YouTube there is an interesting video from the New York Sun and the Metropolitan Museum of Art discussing the installation, at

Oh well…I can hear the Jaws theme playing in the background: Du dun. Da dun. Da dun da dun da dun duh DA DAAAAAH!


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