And so, to the Shark. After briefly (and insanely) flirting with doing both, we settled on Damien Hirst rather than Gunther von Hagens. Just as well, it's a pretty big exhibition, even if you decide to skip the twenty-minute video of Hirst and a friend dressed as clowns describing car crashes and chain-smoking/parping a clown horn (we didn't).
It was odd how many of the pieces felt like old friends; away from the flock with its cheeky ovine smirk, the familiar parade of spots and pills, the rotting cow's head seeping suppurating juices into the floor, people queueing up to process through mother and child divided. But I'd paid little attention to the bling and butterflies phase, so was quite unprepared for the strangeness of the bright white butterfly room -- where two minutes observation is allowed for beautiful expensive tropical butterflies hatching, eating, flapping, sleeping, dying and decaying in their bright white room in the Tate. It was beautiful and horrible and indulgent and decadent and absolutely indefinably wrong, gilded filth of a civilization past its peak, now folding and dissolving back into black mud like some slow black rice paper origami self-folding action of infinite and ultimate decadence. There are other highlights; an ashtray jacuzzi, walls of diamonds, his own black sheep, the "pretty" shark, a vast black sun made of dead flies ... and I would suggest going when it's crowded, as nothing adds to a Hirst like listening to parents explaining it to small children.
I should probably say a few words about the Relic of Bling. You don't need a ticket for that, just half an hour (probably less at quiet times). There's a big black strongbox in the Turbine Hall, a long queue (we fell between a family group with a wheelchair and young doctors) and at the end of the queue a man who performs a bag-check, waves a ceremonial metal detector, and allows you into a velvet lined box containing an exquisitely-lit, diamond encrusted skull. If you're very lucky (as we were) the people behind you will strike up with impromptu choral music, the woman with a wheelchair will run over the security guard's toes and a young doctor will say, in a loud voice, "It's tiny!" and her friend will reply, "It's the size of a head."
Last night Harlequin brought me a tiny dead mouse, with a sprig of small leaves, like a salad garnish.