British artist Damien Hirst made a name for himself in the early 1990s with a sensational exhibition of works that included a dead shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde. The artwork was titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” and it left an indelible, iconic impression on viewers, critics, and the public alike.
Now, nearly three decades later, a new exhibition in London features similar works and more from Hirst’s early career. There’s a shark chopped up in sections with each part in its own tank called “Myth Explored, Explained, Exploded” from 1993. There are other sharks, too, encased in clear plexiglass coffins. The exhibition is called “End of a Century,” which is also the name of a song by the Britpop band Blur that was popular in the U.K. around the time Hirst was becoming an art world darling.
There are also dead cows heads, pigs and chickens — animal bodies and body parts — all chemically preserved in blue-tinted glass cases. It’s gruesome but compelling, eerie but clinical and bright. The story behind how some of the artwork was made might be disturbing for some. According to the Guardian newspaper in the U.K., a small herd of cattle were slaughtered for the purpose of Hirst creating another artwork in the show that includes a pile of cows heads.
Another part of the show is dedicated to Hirst’s artwork comprised of pharmacological product — the compositional display of a wide variety of actual pills in various shapes, sizes and colors, as well as a myriad of beakers and containers. (For a few years in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Hirst helped back a popular restaurant called Pharmacy in the London that was decorated with his artwork.)
The artwork in this exhibition still captivates as much now as it did in the ’90. It’s also equally repellent. It all makes for a greatest-hits retrospective, but one that is a testament to the power of these works and relevance even now as the world stares down a deadly pandemic. The show runs through March 2021 at the Newport Street Gallery in London.