Damien Hirst's "One Thousand Years" (1990) displayed the head of a dead cow in addition to countless flies that were killed through the course of the work's exhibition. (photo by Gazanfarulla Khan via Flickr)

The Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg, Germany shut down a Damien Hirst installation displaying dead flies after the animal rights group PETA complained to the city last week. The work, titled “A Hundred Years” (1990), consists of a glass display case in which flies hatch, fly toward a bright light, and then are incinerated by the same light that attracts them. The mechanism replicates the technology of widespread fly zappers.

“We thought that flies didn’t come under the Animal Welfare Act,” said Andreas Beitin, director of the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, in a statement to German news outlet Braunschweiger Zeitung. According to German law, “no one may cause an animal pain, suffering or harm without good reason.”

“Killing animals has nothing to do with art, it just shows the arrogance of people who literally will stop at nothing for their own interests,” a PETA representative said in response to the display of the work in Wolfsburg.

A similar version of Hirst’s work called “A Thousand Years” (1990) included a real cow head below the light. The dead flies would then accumulate around the rotting head.

This is not the first time that Damien Hirst — one of the world’s wealthiest artists — has come under fire from animal rights groups. His work “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991) features a floating 14-foot tiger shark preserved with formaldehyde — “caught and killed by a fisherman in Australia at Mr. Hirst’s behest in 1991,” according to the New York Times. And in 2012, the artist was accused of killing 9,000 butterflies for an installation at Tate Modern in London.

The now-dismantled installation was included in an exhibition called Power! Light! that explored the benefits and drawbacks of the human invention: “On the one hand, artificial light makes cultural events possible, offers social space and protection, can showcase people, objects, or consumer articles and thus lend them meaning. On the other hand, power is exercised with the targeted use of electric light: It can be used to monitor, manipulate, exclude, or even destroy,” reads a description of the exhibition on the museum’s website.

Power! Light!, which included the work of over 60 artists, closed July 10. The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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