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Fury over Damian Hirst's severed head art on display at Walsall art gallery

Walsall | News | Published:

A row has broken out over an image currently hanging in a Black Country gallery as part of an exhibition by controversial artist Damien Hirst.

One of the pictures from the year-long display at The New Art Gallery Walsall has sparked outrage from two archaeology experts.

With Dead Head, from 1991, shows a teenage Damien Hirst, grinning, and with his arm around a severed head.

But academics from the University of Leicester have branded it a 'breach of power' and have written to the New Art Gallery.

Gallery bosses today said many artworks are 'challenging' and provoke debate.

The black and white photograph was taken in 1981 when Hirst was just 16 at a morgue in Leeds after the young artist tagged along with a friend who was studying microbiology. But Sarah

Tarlow, an archaeology professor at the University of Leicester, said: "Taking such a picture breaches all professional standards of those who regularly deal with the bodies of the dead.

"We are well aware that Hirst's art is intended to challenge and outrage and that it frequently deals with the bodies of the dead, but find this image to be exploitative and insensitive.

"The photo is an abuse of power.

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"In this case, a person who had made a decision in good faith to give his body to medical science – a philanthropic act – has been betrayed by a young student for egocentric reasons."

She added such a photo had a place in Hirst's archives. "But giving it wall space without including in the commentary any acknowledgement of the ethical issues suggests that the gallery finds nothing objectional in such a 'joke'."

Director of the New Art Gallery Stephen Snoddy said the gallery had responded directly.

"Hirst's With Dead Head is one of five core works that are available through Artists Rooms On Tour, an inspired partnership between the Art Fund, Tate and National Galleries of Scotland," he said. "The work has been shown extensively throughout Britain including shows at Tate Modern, Leeds Art Gallery and Tate Britain. We are not aware of any previous complaints."

He added: "We do appreciate that many works of art can be challenging and provoke discussion and debate."

The exhibition runs until October 6.

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