Stuckists Tell Saatchi And Hirst 'A Dead Shark Isn't Art'

By David Prudames | 23 April 2003
Shows the 325lb shark hanging in the window of the Stuckism International Centre.

Left: Eddie Saunders may have been very brave catching a 325lb shark, but has he created a work of art? Image courtesy of Charles Thomson.

A 325lb shark, caught by Shoreditch electrician Eddie Saunders and displayed in his shop in 1989 is on show at the Stuckism International Centre until May 7.

It's not just there for show, of course, you can buy it, but it'll cost you £1 million.

It's no coincidence that across town Charles Saatchi has just opened a gallery to showcase his spectacular collection of contemporary art, amongst which is a 17-foot embalmed tiger shark.

The new bankside art gallery needs no introduction and neither does one of its most notorious exhibits, but what the Stuckists want to do is not only question Damien Hirst's work, but to confront the basis of the conceptual art that he and Mr Saatchi have helped make famous.

Stuckist founder Charles Thomson told the 24 Hour Museum how he had noticed the shark a while ago, but waited until the opening of the new Saatchi Gallery to put it on display.

Shows Damien Hirst's embalmed tiger shark in situ at the newly-opened Saatchi Gallery.

Right: Damien Hirst's tiger shark at the newly-opened Saatchi Gallery. Photo: David Prudames. © 24 Hour Museum.

“It raises an interesting point,” explained Charles. “It's basically to expose the lie, the falsity of claiming something ordinary is extraordinary when it's not and always remains ordinary – if you take a shark to be ordinary in the first place.”

“If Hirst's shark is recognised as great art, then how come Eddie's, which was on display two years beforehand, isn't? Do we perhaps have here an undiscovered artist of genius, who got there first, or is it that a dead shark isn't art at all?”

And with its million pound price tag, the preserved creature forces the viewer to re-evaluate such artistic value systems.

While we can't help but find the idea of paying £1 million for this item ridiculous, the comparison to Hirst's work is obvious. One sits in a gallery and is admired and/or debated by the many people who go to look at it, the other hangs on the wall of an electrician's shop.

Of course that isn't the only difference between the two, but the point is that a work of art is only attributed value and only worth what a person is prepared to pay for it – Damien Hirst's shark reportedly set Charles Saatchi back £50,000.

Shows a photograph of a shark hanging in a gallery window.

Left: Eddie Saunders' shark is coated in formaldehyde rather than sitting in it. Image courtesy of Charles Thomson.

“This shark has been on show since 1989. It has been deliberately put on display as a striking object in a non-gallery space and that is the honest status of it. That is the truth of it, that it is an interesting thing to look at and it's a novelty to have it displayed outside of a museum or aquarium."

“But it isn't an artistic display. It isn't art. It may be artistic to display it like it is, but it's not actually or specifically art.”

By putting the shark on display, the Stuckists are making a point by questioning our methods of attributing value to a work of art, as well as asking how we define something as a work of art.

Without a doubt every new artistic movement will provoke such questions and it is just this discussion that makes the art world a fascinating one. Funnily enough, Eddie Saunders was offered £10,000 for his shark only two years ago.

A donation is being made by the gallery to Eddie Saunders' nominated charity, Parents of Redbridge Retarded Youth.

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