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Damien Hirst’s 1990s Shark, which Sold for $8m, Reportedly Dates Back to 2017

Artist Damien Hirst finds himself at the centre of the controversy yet again as his formaldehyde shark, which was originally made in 2017, was backdated to the 1990s. The artwork in question is ‘The Unknown (Explored, Explained, Exploded), 1999.’ As could be reckoned by the suggestive title is the “alleged” completion date — 1999. A ‘Guardian’ investigation has found that the artwork spawned in 2017. On interrogating Hirst’s company argued that the date denoted the birth of the ‘idea.’ This comment has gathered a polarised review from the art critics, curators, and custodians at large.

The 13-foot-long shark was sold to the billionaire brothers, Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta III in 2018 at a whopping $8 million. The art piece, segmented into three parts, rests at the Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas. Close sources have dispelled that the sculpture’s creation was done, solely to be installed in the resort. ‘Guardian’s reports have concluded that the piece is the fourth formaldehyde sculpture, dating back to 2017; falsely claimed to have been built in the 1990s. The other three include similar themes but are made with a dove, a tiny shark, and two calves. 

Courtesy – AKQA

Jo Baring, former Director of Christie’s commented on the shocking news, relating it to Hirst’s prowess as a contemporary conceptual artist; who is eagerly awaited by art galleries and enthusiasts. She says, “Cases like this don’t help assuage doubts about the lack of transparency in the art world. But that power means that people are afraid to challenge or ask questions.” To this accusation, Hirst’s company responded by noting, “He has been clear over the years when asked what is important in conceptual art; it is not the physical making of the object or the renewal of its parts, but rather the intention and the idea behind the artwork.”

Although Damien Hirst remains silent on the topic, his legal team has clarified, “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.” Baring maintains her stance, offering a solution, “There is definitely best practice, which is to give the date of the physical creation of a work, or if there is a wide difference between conception and creation, to give both dates.”

Courtesy – The Guardian

It remains unclear whether the Fertitta siblings were informed about this ‘error.’ So does the Palms resort which has recently seen a change in ownership since 2021. The sculpture is now under the custody of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. A source has claimed that shark is loaned till at least 2025, although still at the Palms.

Image Courtesy – The Real Deal

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