Vic Hislop’s sharks have been slaughtered on the beach for cat food and shown in the Tate Modern.

London, UK

Vic Hislop doesn’t kill sharks just for the money. He kills sharks because he really doesn’t like them. But of the 1,100 “senseless eating machines” that he has personally slaughtered, a few are now worth millions.

In 1991, Hislop caught and shipped a four-meter-long tiger shark to London, UK , answering an ad posted on a wharf in his native Queensland, Australia. The shark’s buyer was a young artist named Damien Hirst, who dropped the two-tonne carcass into a formaldehyde bath, titled it The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and sold it to art collector Charles Saatchi for £50,000 (US$75,000). British newspapers mocked the “Fish Without Chips” sale, but after Saatchi’s gallery put his shark on show, Hirst was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize.

Then Impossibility started to rot. Putrefaction is common to Hirst sculptures (another, called A Thousand Years, consists of a cow’s head being devoured by maggots), but the drooping, greenish shark looked poorly, rather than provocative. So Hirst flayed it and stretched the skin over a fiberglass mold. Ten years later, when billionaire US banker Steven Cohen offered $8 million for the work, Hirst decided to renovate everything but the title, calling on Hislop to deliver a new shark, hiring a “fish curator” from the London Natural History Museum to pickle it professionally, and earning an extra $100,000 for his trouble.

At last alert to his enemy’s worth, Vic Hislop launched his own exhibition. But at the time of writing, the Vic Hislop Shark Show has not become profitable enough for the fisherman to quit his day job.


Diyconserving art

[1] Balloon Self-Portrait (1993)

Latex doesn’t age well, and US artist Tim Hawkinson’s 1993 latex cast of his body, turned inside out and inflated, deteriorated far faster than his real body. It had to be entirely remade in 2004.

[2] Untitled (Public Opinion) (1991)

In 1991, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, USA, bought artist Félix González-Torres’ “endless supply” of licorice, with the artist’s stipulation that, as visitors ate the candies, curators should replace them without changing the candy pile’s shape.

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[3] Lick and Lather (1993)

In 1993, the chocolate heads lining the walls of the New Museum in New York, USA, were meant to last 100 years, but US artist Janine Antoni didn’t want them put behind glass. Hungry visitors soon bit the busts.

[4] Merda d’artista (1961)

These sealed 30-gram cans hold the feces of Italian artist Piero Manzoni. In 1994, Danish collector John Hunov lent one to Denmark’s Randers Museum of Art, only to later find it leaking after being stored at high temperatures.

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[5] Floor Cake (1962)

After 50 years on the floor, US artist Claes Oldenburg’s giant slice of cake sculpture began to deflate. Curators at New York’s Museum of Modern Art simply topped off the saggy icing with a little more polyurethane.

[6] Self (1991)

Every five years, British artist Marc Quinn sculpts his head with 4.5 liters of his own frozen blood. In 2002, rumors circulated that the original edition had melted when collector Charles Saatchi’s freezer was accidentally unplugged.

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[7] Magi© Bullet (1992)

In 2012, Canadian artist group General Idea’s self-destructing installation of silver balloons slowly deflated in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, until the balloons fell within the reach of visitors, who took them home.

[8] Bag of Doughnuts (1989)

In 1989, one art critic started snacking on a Robert Gober “sculpture” of a bagful of doughnuts in Cooper Gallery, New York, USA. He immediately returned his treat to the gallery floor, partially digested, due to its poisonous preservatives.



From the pages of COLORS #87 - Looking at Art.