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Lee Bul, Majestic Splendor
Lee Bul, Majestic Splendor, 1991–2018, installation view, Hayward Gallery, 2018Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Linda Nylind

Rotting fish spontaneously combust, causing fire in London gallery

It’s lit

Let me set the scene. You’re putting the finishing touches on your gallery’s stellar new show when one of its artworks spontaneously combusts. Not only that, but the artwork in question is a series of rotting fish covered in sequins. Officially titled “Majestic Splendour” (1991-2018), the fish are the work of South Korean artist Lee Bul, whose show Crashing was set to open at London’s Hayward Gallery yesterday.

“Majestic Splendour” was first shown in 1997 at New York’s MoMA, but the smell was so offensive that museum-goers complained that it made them feel unwell, which resulted in MoMA pulling the work from the exhibition entirely. In subsequent showings of the work, the fish were encased in plastic baggies filled with potassium permanganate in an attempt to minimise the stench. Described as “a strong oxidiser similar to chlorine”, the chemical is neither toxic nor flammable, however, when combined with other combustible materials its flammability increases. After receiving expert chemical advice and deciding that the risk was too big to take – particularly given that this was just the second show of its newly opened space – the Hayward and the artist made the decision to withdraw the fish. But not before they spontaneously combusted and caused a small fire to break out in the gallery that the fire service attended.  

Aside from the slight change in programming, Crashing still promises to be “a spectacular dream-like landscape featuring monstrous bodies, futuristic cyborgs, glittering mirrored environments and an exquisitely surreal monumental foil Zeppelin”. With Frieze reporting that “only minimal damage has been caused to the gallery by the exploding fish”, some might say that the exhibition, launching today, is already off to a banging start...

Crashing will run at London’s Hayward Gallery until 19 August