Rotting Fish Art Exhibit Catches Fire In Museum

An artist was getting his rotting fish exhibit ready, but just hours before it was to open it burst into flames in the newly renovated museum.

By DAVID on June 5, 2018
(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Just like that title up there says, an artist’s rotting fish display burst into flames at an art museum. We’ve got the details as to how and why, prepare to shake your head with incredulity. At the very least, you’ll be entertained when you read this story.

First of all, the artist, Lee Bul, made an exhibit featuring rotting fish. I understand that art can be a little different, but rotting fish art? Anyway, we’re not judging, just presenting the story. Ahem. So the artist actually had another go at this exhibit back in the ’90s. In 1997, he had the same display, rotting fish covered in sequin, in New York. That exhibit had to be removed from the museum for obvious reasons. The smell was absolutely dreadful, and visitors to the museum were getting sick. Exhibit cancelled, and removed from display, problem solved.

Round two. The same exhibit – rotting fish covered in sequin – was to go on display in London this time. Lee had done some research though. He tried to figure out the best way to cover the smell, and found a couple ways. The method he chose involved a chemical called potassium permanganate. That chemical worked well in covering the smell of the fish. It’s usually used in water treatment facilities to remove the rotten-egg smell from water, and it also helps to remove the iron. Also, it can be used in medical applications to help clean wounds. Anyway, another property of that chemical is that it increases the “flammability of other combustible materials.”

You see where this is going. Once the art museum caught wind of just what the chemical is capable of, they decided to remove the exhibit. It was during the removal process that one of the bags of rotting fish and potassium permanganate burst open. A “small fire broke out and the fire service attended,” says someone from the museum. Probably a small stench as well, I’m guessing. The museum, by the way, had just reopened in January after a 2-year renovation. See some more on the story here. The display is called “Majestic Splendor,” and does contain other exhibits besides the rotting fish.

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