Damien Hirst exhibits revolutionary formaldehyde sculptures
“I wanted a shark big enough to eat you and in enough liquid that you could imagine you were there with it” – Damien Hirst
Gagosian is pleased to present Natural History, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to Damien Hirst’s groundbreaking work using formaldehyde. The exhibition, part of Hirst’s takeover of the Britannia Street Gallery, will review over twenty of the most iconic examples, dating from 1991 to 2021.
Since first bursting into public consciousness in 1991 with The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a fourteen-foot tiger shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde, Hirst has used the natural compound in several of his best known works. incorporating
his continued drive to bridge the gap between art and science, the natural history series includes a variety of preserved animals, such as sheep, doves, a zebra and even a ‘unicorn’ – some of which are cut in half, cut in cross sections, or flayed. This exhibition, which presents works spanning thirty years, brings together many of these works for the first time.
Beginning with The Impossible Lovers (1991), a cabinet filled with glass jars containing preserved cow organs, Natural History also includes works incorporating sheep (I Am ), fish (Saint Philippe  and love is blind ), the calves (Cain and Abel  and the Ascension ), and, of course, sharks (Myth Explored, Explained, Busted , among others). In addition, on display are intricate paintings such as The Pursuit of Oblivion (2004), in which animal carcasses are joined by other objects, including knives and a chainmail glove. As their titles and components suggest, these arrangements combine startlingly unexpected variations on religious iconography with investigations of phenomenological and psychological facts and events.
Hirst’s use of formaldehyde allows him to present visceral, often disturbing objects in a deliberately relaxed clinical style, adapting formal devices identified with minimalism with a meditation on life and death, facts and faith. The heavy frames of the sculptures’ tanks have been a feature of his work since the 1990s in works such as A Hundred Years and A Thousand Years (both from 1990). The windows of Hirst
are rooted in a fear of fragility and a consequent desire to isolate and protect. However, in the end, far from proposing formaldehyde as an effective means of preserving objects and the ideas they convey, Hirst concludes that the very concept of preservation is futile in the face of inevitable death.
Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England, and lives and works in London and Devon, England. Collections include the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, Italy; Brandhorst Museum, Munich; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid; Tate, London; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo; Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, Scotland; National Center for Contemporary Arts, Moscow; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Art Institute of Chicago; The Large, Los Angeles; Jumex Museum, Mexico City;
and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan. Exhibits include
Cornucopia, Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (2010); Tate Modern, London (2012); Relics, Qatar Museums Authority, Al Riwaq (2013); Meaning (Hope, Immortality and Death in Paris, Now and Once), Deyrolle, Paris (2014); Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo (2015); The Last Supper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2016); Treasures from the Wreck of the Incredible, Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana, Venice (2017); Damien Hirst at Houghton Hall: Color Space Paintings and Outdoor Sculptures, Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England (2019); Mental Escapology, St. Moritz, Switzerland (2021); Cherry blossoms, Fondation Cartier, Paris (2021); and Archeology Now, Galleria Borghese, Rome (2021). Hirst received the Turner Prize in 1995
Damien Hirst Formaldehyde Sculptures Gagosian 6–24 Britannia Street, London opens March 10