Study: Artist's Famous Works Were Leaking Poisonous Gas

Damien Hirst and the Tate deny anyone was in danger
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2016 3:40 PM CDT
Study: Artist's Famous Works Were Leaking Poisonous Gas
Damien Hirst poses beside his piece "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" in 2012 at the Tate. Death was actually not so impossible, as a new study finds the piece was leaking poisonous gas.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

It turns out artist Damien Hirst's famous displays of dead animals preserved in formaldehyde may have been dangerous to more than just artistic sensibilities. A study published this month in Analytical Methods found Hirst's pieces were leaking formaldehyde gas at levels 10 times higher than the legal limit during a show at London's Tate Modern in 2012. They were also found to be releasing gas at a more recent show in Beijing. Both the US and EU classify formaldehyde as a carcinogen, the New York Times reports. The short-term effects of exposure include nosebleeds and coughing. The study's author, Pier Giorgio Righetti, says visitors were unlikely to have been affected by the gas, but gallery staff who spent more time around the tanks may have been.

Hirst created the works, which feature everything from zebras to sharks to cows suspended in thousands of liters of formaldehyde, in the early 1990s, the Guardian reports. In the past, he said he likes working with formaldehyde because "it is dangerous and it burns your skin; if you breathe it in, it chokes you," according to GQ. In a statement, the Tate says it took all "necessary precautions" and that the formaldehyde was contained within the tanks. Hirst denies the claims made by the study. "Experts tell us that at the levels reported by this journal, your eyes would be streaming and you would be in serious physical discomfort," a statement on his website reads. "No such complaints were made." Believe it or not the study wasn't even about Hirst's works; it was looking into the effectiveness of a new formaldehyde sensor that can be worn as a bracelet. (Last year, cleaners accidentally threw away a modern art installation.)

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