Artist’s Chemical Experiment with Rotting Fish Challenges the Museum


As a number of art news outlets have reported, Lee Bul’s sprawling solo exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery did not open last week as scheduled, thanks to the botched removal of a work titled “Majestic Splendor.” The installation consists of dead fish decorated with kitschy beaded bracelets and fake jewels, each one resting in small plastic bags pinned to the wall in a grid. Lee, a South Korean artist known for her eclectic, often dystopian work across mediums, began making a version of the work in 1991 (with the fish individually sequined by hand) and has since installed it a number of times at institutions around the globe. Over the course of each exhibition, the fish are left to rot, creating a fetid smell that permeates the gallery.

At least one iteration of “Majestic Splendor” — an infamous showing in the Projects series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1997 — had to be removed because the stench was so overpowering that it made guards physically ill, and so far-reaching that it wafted up to the restaurant. (Thanks to MoMA’s Press and Archives staff, this writer learned that the problem primarily stemmed from a faulty refrigerator unit that held some of the fish; when the unit was hastily removed from the show, Lee pulled the rest of the work, too.)  In recent years, the artist has added potassium permanganate to the plastic bags to neutralize the smell. A compound with myriad uses ranging from disinfecting water to treating fungal infections, potassium permanganate is highly flammable in combination with other chemicals — in fact, it’s included in survival kits as a fire starter and serves as the primary material in plastic spheres manufactured to create controlled burns on ranges or in wildfire situations.

Having belatedly come to terms with the clear danger posed by potassium permanganate, Hayward decided to pull the fish from the show only hours before the preview, lest anything accidentally blow up. The joke, as it were, was on the gallery, as the deinstallation of the work sparked a small fire, causing enough damage to delay the opening. The story sounds like it’s been pulled straight from the annals of The Onion, a tale of vengeful bedazzled fish that illustrates the absurdity of contemporary art, and the lengths to which galleries and museums are willing to go to realize works that are dangerous to the institutions that harbor them.

Read more!

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here:

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in!

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.