British artist Damien Hirst has come under fire in recent days, either for killing too many or not nearly enough butterflies (depending on whom you ask) at a recreation of his 1991 exhibition In and Out of Love as part of a retrospective at the Tate Modern in London.
The exhibition featured two rooms full of butterflies. Many of the insects were hatched in-house, from pupae pinned to canvases, and left to fly around the galleries, feeding on flowers, sugar water, and bowls of rotting fruit. Others—about 400 a day—were hatched elsewhere and introduced into the exhibit to replenish the populations as they were wiped out.
And wiped out they were: crushed underfoot, brushed too forcefully off visitors' clothing, riddled with bullets in the gang wars that have claimed so many.
A spokesman for PETA complained to the Telegraph that Hirst's cool butterfly room wasn't even that cool:
"Butterflies are beautiful parts of nature and should be enjoyed in the wild instead of destroyed for something predictable and unimaginative."
A spokesman for me argued that the rooms functioned as terrifying torture chambers, not for butterflies, but for man:
"Ugh blegh butterflies flying at my head, they're like moths, ach blagh, out of my mouth, are they in my hair, ARE THEY IN MY HAIR, get it off me, I'm crying now."
A spokesman for the Tate defended the installation, stating that the butterflies used "were all sourced from reputable UK butterfly houses and were selected from varieties known to thrive in the conditions created."
The exhibit featured butterflies of the Owl and Heliconius species, whose natural habitat is a windowless room crowded in British art museums, so it's weird they didn't live as long as they normally do (though they can live as long as 9 months in the wild, the ones in the museum are believed to have maxed out at "several days.")
The Hirst retrospective was one of the most popular in the museum's history, attracting nearly 3,000 visitors a day. It was, however, only marginally successful in stamping out the rampant problem of butterflies' existence.