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How to preserve Damien Hirst’s butterflies

Damien Hirst, British, born 1965, Beautiful Superheroes Painting (with Butterflies), 2007. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, New York. Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

A major exhibition opening in July at the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey tackles the thorny issue of conserving 21st-century large-scale, mixed-media works. The show, A Material Legacy: the Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection of Contemporary Art (30 July-30 October), has been organised by the museum’s director James Steward. It includes 35 works made mostly in the past decade such as Anish Kapoor’s stainless steel sculpture Full Moon (2014) and Damien Hirst’s Beautiful Superheroes Painting (with Butterflies) (2007). “Preserving works like these for the future will challenge the skills of conservators because of the varying ways in which these materials will age, or respond to light or to changes in temperature. I think the challenge will fully reveal itself over time and because so many of these works are so new, we haven’t yet seen the ways in which they will age,” Steward says, adding: “We may need to respond by accepting a certain amount of deterioration as inherent in the life of such a piece.” The show was previously seen at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.