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Shark Woes

Keeping an $8 million pickled fish looking tasty.

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The whole point of Damien Hirst’s sculpture The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living would seem to be preservation. Billionaire hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen recently bought it for a reported $12 million. Though a source close to Cohen says the price was actually only $8 million, that’s still a hefty profit for art mogul Charles Saatchi—who bought it in 1992 for $93,000—and a confident sign of the investment value of shocking contemporary art. Except the fourteen-foot tiger shark, which Hirst cut in half and displayed in formaldehyde, has been showing signs of deterioration. In 1993, Hirst called in Oliver Crimmen, curator of fish at London’s Natural History Museum. “He wanted advice because it was shrinking,” says Crimmen. “I recommended deep-injecting formaldehyde directly into the internal organs.” They spoke again in 2003. “The fluid was going cloudy,” says Crimmen. “I’m sure it wasn’t deep-injected initially.” So what to do? He would transfer it to alcohol, “which would stabilize it for over 100 years,” but without a greenish tint. Hirst’s company didn’t return calls, but a source close to Cohen says the shark’s in good hands: “He consulted with several conservators before the purchase.”


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