Damien Hirst has never been a fan favorite amongst animal rights activists. They didn’t love his formaldehyde-soaked shark and they weren’t so pleased with his severed cow’s head, so you can imagine how they reacted to the butterfly massacre that was his recent exhibit.
The atrocity art installation, titled “In and Out of Love,” was shown at the Tate Modern earlier this year. It consisted of of just two white and windowless rooms filled with live butterflies whizzing about, and was part of a larger retrospective that involved other winged insect-inspired creations. But it’s entering headlines (and enraging the humane population of the world) this week because The Telegraph announced on Sunday that the absurd Tate show resulted in the total death toll of over 9,000 butterflies. Stepped on, violently swatted, or bored to death by contemporary art, the 23 week-retrospective reportedly led to approximately 400 winged deaths per week.
The Tate Modern defended Hirst’s exhibit, remarking to The Telegraph: “The butterflies used in this work were all…selected from varieties known to thrive in the conditions created. The butterflies lived out the final stage of their natural life cycle inside this room.”
Hirst himself stood up to defend his slaughter as well, saying in a statement to The Daily Mail that he employed a butterfly expert for his show at “considerable cost.” He added that the living conditions created at the museum were “perfect” and “resulted in many butterflies enjoying longer lifespans due to the high quality of the environment and food provided.”
As far as we know, butterflies do not thrive well in windowless museum halls, but we’re not a professional like Nabokov or anything. And the survival rate reported by The Telegraph — a couple of hours to several days — does not measure up well to the the particular species’ actual lifespan in the wild — several months. But again, we’re not “considerably costly” experts, are we?
As someone who’s spent a considerable amount of time in art school, I find Hirst’s exhibit to be deplorable. Then again, I’ve never been a fan of his “work.” I’ve talked about using live animals as art before and it is my contention that any work which harms the life of another either is not art at all or is incredibly bad art. Hirst does things which he knows to be controversial to gain notoriety as a so-called artist and while one may consider that some form of art in itself, I find the cheapness of it all to be embarrassingly bad and a new form of kitsch. True art should never require the suffering of another life. It’s selfish and disgusting.