Rotting Fish Art Explodes, Causes Fire in London Gallery

LiveScience | Mindy Weisberger

Something was rotten in a London art gallery last week — an installation of sequin-embroidered decomposing fish sealed in clear plastic bags. But before the exhibit even opened, the malodorous artwork unexpectedly combusted and set fire to the gallery. The installation — a piece called “Majestic Splendor” by Lee Bul — was part of an exhibition of the Korean artist’s work, scheduled to open at the Hayward Gallery on May 30. Then, hours before the show’s first preview, the gassy art blew up, causing a fire that damaged part of the gallery, artnet News reported.

Even though the exhibit was not yet open to the public, gallery officials had already decided to remove “Majestic Splendor” from the show for safety reasons. They had learned earlier that a chemical added to the fishes’ bags to dampen their smell could become flammable after combining with gases released by the decomposing flesh, and art handlers were taking down the art as a precaution when it suddenly combusted and sparked a fire, a gallery spokesperson told frieze magazine.

“Majestic Splendor” previously raised eyebrows — and wrinkled noses — when it was presented at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City in January 1997. Dozens of small, transparent bags were fixed to a wall; each contained a rotting fish decorated with stitched-on sequins and beads, representing Bul’s scathing commentary on the fleeting nature of beauty for highly ornamented women, according to the 1997 MoMA exhibition catalog.

But after a custom-designed refrigeration unit for the MoMA installation failed, the smell was so awful that museum officials nixed the display and removed it, and subsequent showings included an odor-reducing chemical known as potassium permanganate, the Guardian reported…read more

Image: Installation view of Lee Bul, Willing To Be Vulnerable (2015-2016) at Hayward Gallery, 2018. © Lee Bul 2018. Photo by Linda Nylind