A controversial British artist has attracted the venom of insect lovers after 9,000 butterflies died during a recent exhibition, according to reports.
Damien Hirst, whose previous works include Mother and Child Divided (2007) — in which a cow and calf are preserved in formaldehyde and displayed in glass boxes — was criticized after reports surfaced on the weekend about the alleged butterfly massacre.
The Daily Mail reported that in a retrospective of the artist’s work at the Tate Modern, which ran between April 4 and Sept. 9, more than 9,000 butterflies were killed, many while “being inadvertently trodden on or brushed off visitors’ clothing.”
The majority died of natural causes inside an installation titled “In and Out of Love.”
The newspaper quoted an unnamed spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who said: “Damien Hirst’s quest to be edgy is as boring as it is callous. It does not matter whether Hirst killed the animals himself or sat by while thousands of them were massacred for his own unjustifiable amusement.”
The butterfly exhibit was part of a retrospective of Hirst’s work, which attracted nearly 500,000 visitors. The installation in question featured bowls of fruit, flowers, sugared water and tropical butterflies of the Owl and Heliconius species.
“The butterflies used in this work were all … selected from varieties known to thrive in the conditions created,” a Tate spokesperson told the Daily Mail. “The butterflies lived out the final stage of their natural life cycle inside this room.”
“A butterfly expert was employed at considerable cost,” said Hirst, in a statement. “Perfect living conditions were replicated and this resulted in many butterflies enjoying longer life spans due to the high quality of the environment and food provided.”
The retrospective also included other works from the past two decades of Hirst’s career. There were sculptures from his “Natural History” series, including The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), in which another animal, this time a shark, was suspended in formaldehyde.
“When I came along and started making art, I wanted to change the world,” said Hirst, in a video press release before the show.
Hirst arrived on London’s art scene in 1988 after he curated “Freeze,” a warehouse exhibition featuring the work of various students from Goldsmiths College, where he graduated.
According to biographical material on the Tate website, Hirst’s works are “explicitly concerned with the fundamental dilemmas of human existence; his constant themes have included the fragility of life, society’s reluctance to confront death, and the nature of love and desire, often clothed in titles which exist somewhere between the naive and the disingenuous.
“Dead animals are frequently used in Hirst’s installations, forcing viewers to consider their own and society’s attitudes to death.”