Dead flies for Christmas

It is not everyone’s idea of a great Christmas present—a pickled cow, some dead flies, used cigarette ends and an arrangement of sea shells. But the Tate Gallery in London could not be happier and this month revealed that the artist, Damien Hirst, had made his first ever donation to a museum.

After protracted talks, Hirst has donated four important pieces from his personal collection and the hope is that more will follow.

Three years ago Hirst was one of 24 artists to pledge significant works as part of Tate’s Building the Tate Collection campaign, and while artists such as Antony Gormley, Anthony Caro and Louise Bourgeois had already donated, Hirst had not.

The four works include a copy of Mother and Child, Divided (1993)—a cow and calf, each bisected, and displayed in tanks of formaldehyde—which he displayed at the Turner prize in 1995.

Also on its way to the Tate is The Acquired Inability to Escape (1991), displayed at Hirst’s first ICA solo exhibition in London.
It consists of a large glass display case containing, among other things, cigarettes, lighter, ashtray and stubs—for Hirst the cigarette is symbolic of luxury, danger and death.

Who is Afraid of the Dark (2002) is one of the first of Hirst’s fly paintings, in which dead flies cover a canvas. The fourth work, Life Without You (1991), is an arrangement of sea shells on a desk.

Hirst said he had been in negotiations for a few years to make sure the Tate got the right works to represent him. ‘It means a lot to me to have works in the Tate. I would never have thought it possible when I was a student. Giving works from my collection is a small thing if it means millions of people get to see my work displayed in a great space.”—

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