How would you feel coming face-to-face with a 13-foot tiger shark in an art gallery? For his work titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, contemporary British artist Damien Hirst wanted to present a shark that was “real enough to frighten you.” So instead of making a sculpture of a shark, he hired a fisherman in Australia to catch a real one. Experts then installed the shark in a glass-and-steel case filled with a chemical solution to preserve it. Created in 1991, this is still one of contemporary art’s most celebrated and controversial works. 

The sculpture sparked a storm of media attention. Critics say it has plenty of shock value but little artistic value. Supporters counter that the work is thought-provoking and forces viewers to grapple with the boundary between life and death. 

Others take issue with the methods used to create the artwork. Some feel that since Hirst didn’t make the work with his own hands, it isn’t art. But advocates believe that the idea is more important than the process. They compare Hirst’s work to that of modern artist Marcel Duchamp. Early in the 20th century, Duchamp collected commonplace objects, such as a urinal, and proclaimed them “art,” calling them “readymades.” Adding only a signature, Duchamp transformed the urinal into art. Like Duchamp, Hirst tried to redefine something from the real world as art.

This work launched Hirst’s career and sold for millions of dollars. With this now- famous fish, Hirst pushed the boundaries of art, and more than 20 years later, people are still talking about it. What do you think? Is this art?