This major vitrine work was first exhibited at Hirst’s three-person exhibition, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, at Tate Britain, London, in 2004. In the inner tank of the double steel and glass vitrine, an animatronic man breathes and adjusts his microscope, through which he examines a butterfly. Around him, dense foliage and live butterflies fly around him and his scientific apparatus. The outer vitrine contains sand, shells and other detritus such as broken glass bottles. Positioned facing towards the scientist is a version of the child’s anatomy model Hirst used as the basis for ‘Hymn’ (1999 - 2005) which was originally affixed with an image of the collector Charles Saatchi, who purchased ‘Hymn’ in 2000. Eight variously coloured butterfly monochrome paintings hang on the surrounding walls.
Whilst Hirst’s early vitrine works, such as ‘The Acquired Inability to Escape’ (1991), reference “the violence of inanimate objects” by presenting man-made items conspicuously absent of the human form, ‘The Collector’ is one of a number of later works in which the human presence is present. It was preceded by ‘A Way of Seeing’ (2000), a sculpture Hirst first showed at the exhibition ‘Theories, Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings’ at Gagosian Gallery, New York, in 2000. In this earlier vitrine, a similar animatronic scientist studies a series of microscopic slides next to an overflowing ashtray.
As in ‘In and Out of Love’ (1991), the butterfly monochrome paintings, which form part of the ‘The Collector’, are presented in opposition to the live insects contained within the vitrine. The work encapsulates one of Hirst’s central concerns: the contradiction implied in the fact that scientific research generally involves needing to destroy something in order to look at it properly.