It appears Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde sculptures were not only groundbreaking, they were also toxic.
A new study has been released showing that the sculptures Hirst exhibited at the Tate Modern were leaking toxic formaldehyde gas from the giant tanks containing various dissected farmyard animals.
According to the journal, Analytic Methods; back in 2012 scientists tested, with a newly developed sensor, the remote detection of the carcinogenic gas around the sculptures and found it to be above those levels legally permitted.
But the evidence was dismissed as they didn’t believe the findings demonstrated a tangible risk to the public, 5.8 million of whom visited the attraction in 2014.
A spokesperson for the Tate Modern has said, “Tate always puts the safety of its staff and visitors first, and we take all necessary precautions when installing and displaying our exhibitions,”
“These works contained a very dilute formaldehyde solution that was contained within sealed tanks.”
However, the journal states, “It has been found that the tanks are surrounded by formaldehyde fumes, constantly exuded in the atmosphere (likely via the sealant), reaching levels of five ppm (parts per million), one order of magnitude higher than the 0.5 ppm limit set up by legislation.”
For future reference, should you find yourself near one of these sculptures again, the particularly toxic ones are, Away from the Flock (pictured), a 1994 piece of a lamb preserved in formaldehyde solution in a glass and steel box. There was also gas detected around Mother and Child (Divided), a 1993 work which consists of four boxes containing a calf and cow, each bisected – the exact level of the gas detected around Mother and Child (Divided) was not written in the journal’s article.
Hirst’s representatives haven’t had an immediate response to the study, which has been led by Pier Giorgio Righetti at the Politecnico di Milano in Italy.
Righetti said the research “was intended to test the uses of a new sensor for measuring formaldehyde fumes and we do not believe that our findings suggest any risk to visitors at Tate Modern”.
So, it looks like there’s no need to panic.