Tate saves visitors from poisoning by art

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The Independent Online

Arts Correspondent

The hazards of contemporary installation art rebounded on Britain's best known exponent yesterday when Damien Hirst's latest bizarre creation was withdrawn from the Tate Gallery on safety grounds.

Mother and Child Divided - four formaldehyde-filled tanks containing the severed halves of a cow and her calf - was to have to put on show to the public today, along with the other three shortlisted contenders for this year's Turner Prize. Its controversial nature is illustrated by the catalogue entry: "The tanks are placed so that the viewer can pass between the divided animals, closely examining the exposed entrails and flesh pressing against the glass. For some this is disturbing, even repulsive. For others, it generates a melancholic empathy."

With a view, perhaps, to the reaction of others unmentioned - animal rights activists, for instance - officials at the Tate are insisting that the installation is not put on public show until it has been fitted with strengthened glass and seals to protect visitors from the effects of exposure to the chemicals if it were to spring a sudden leak.

Although the exhibit has previously been shown in Venice, the Tate is taking no chances and will not put it on show until the work is done - probably by Monday.

It is not the first time Hirst's works have caused problems or attracted unwelcome or interventionist attention. Two years ago, his dead sheep exhibit - Away from the Flock - was doused in black ink while on show at another London gallery, and in New York a gallery decided to ban another piece depicting a rotting cow and bull.

The latter involved a hydraulic device being inserted into the two animals in a glass tank to simulate movement, and copulation, as they rotted away. The New York health department said it would pose a public health risk as it might explode, or even provoke vomiting, among spectators. Quoting Catch 22, officials decreed that if the tank was sealed it could shatter from the build up of gases, but if there was an outlet the odours would be overwhelming.

The row begins, Section Two