Monday, 7 October 2019

Butterfly Brouhaha

It's the Stones in Hyde Park all over again (or the Somme!). The 'artist' Damien Hirst has released a new series of works made with geometrically arranged butterfly wings – the kind of kitsch polychrome mosaics that were popular with the Victorians (yes, he's that cutting edge) – and controversy is raging in the sort of places where this kind of controversy usually rages. These particular works are made with large numbers of butterfly wings, imported from butterfly farms in tropical countries – farms which, Hirst's defenders claim, were set up in order to curb the highly destructive illegal butterfly trade. 
 We've been here before with Hirst, who as far back as 2003 was the UK's largest importer of exotic butterfly parts. His 2012 exhibit In and Out of Love caused a bigger outcry – and no wonder. It consisted of two windowless rooms full of huge numbers of live butterflies, and was part of the gigantic Hirst retrospective that ran for a depressing 23 weeks. In the course of those weeks, around 9,000 butterflies died, many of them trodden underfoot by visitors. The butterflies used, which were bought from UK butterfly breeders, were Caligo and Heliconius species. In the wild these live for up to nine months, but at the Tate they lasted only a matter of hours or days. This Telegraph report on the furore includes probably the only statement by a PETA representative that I've ever agree with: 'Damien Hirst's quest to be edgy is as boring as it is callous.' Indeed.

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