Damien Hirst's solo show, complete with a rotting cow's head and a shark suspended in formaldehyde, helped Tate Modern attract a record-breaking 5.3 million people last year.

The gallery on London's Southbank recorded a 9.5% increase in visitor numbers, making 2012 the busiest year in its history, figures released by Tate show.



The Hirst exhibition, which ran from April to early September and featured the artist's diamond-encrusted human skull For The Love Of God, was the most popular solo show in the gallery's history, attracting around 463,000 visitors.

Other highlights of the show, seen by an average of almost 3,000 visitors a day, were A Thousand Years 1990 where flies emerge from maggots, eat from a rotting cow's head and die, and The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living where a shark is suspended in formaldehyde.

Around 1.5 million people visited Tate Britain in Pimlico, central London over the same period, up 4.3% on 2011.

Tate deputy director Alex Beard said: "It has been an extraordinary year at Tate Modern, opening the world's first museum galleries permanently dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film works alongside an outstanding exhibition programme which has undoubtedly fuelled the increase in visitors."

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  • Hirst grew up in Bristol with his mother who took a hard line with her rebellious son, cutting up his trousers and melting his Sex Pistols vinyl records on the cooker.

  • In 1992 his <em>The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living</em> became the most notable nomination of the Turner Prize, though it didn't actually win. The shark encased in formaldehyde became one of the most iconic pieces of the 1990s. PICTURE: PA

  • As a student, Hirst had a placement in a mortuary, an experience that clearly influenced his later work. PICTURE: PA

  • In 1994 Hirst's piece, <em>Away from the Flock</em>, that features a sheep in formaldehyde, was vandalised by another artist, one Mark Bridger, who poured black ink into the tank, and retitled the work <em>Black Sheep</em>. He was subsequently prosecuted, at Hirst's wish, and was given two years' probation. PICTURE: PA

  • In 1995 Hirst won the Turner Prize for his cow and calf in formaldehyde. PICTURE: PA

  • Hirst wanted to use rotting cattle in an exhibition in New York, but was banned by the city's health authorities because of fears of "vomiting among the visitors". PICTURE: PA

  • In 2000 Hirst was commissioned to paint a mini in the style of one of his famous 'spot paintings', to be auctioned at the Serpentine Gallery's 30th Anniversary in London. PICTURE: PA

  • Hirst's 2001 work, <em>Painting-By-Numbers</em> was a do-it-yourself kit designed to make one of his 'spot paintings' - but part of the exhibition was binned by a gallery cleaner who mistook it for trash. PICTURE: PA

  • In his 2007 exhibition at the White Cube gallery in London, Hirst displayed <em>For the Love of God</em>, a human skull recreated in platinum. It was covered with 8,601 diamonds, worth about £15,000,000. The work didn't sell outright but to a consortium that included Hirst - maybe people were put off by the £50,000,000 asking price. PICTURE: PA

  • In September 2008 Hirst became the first living artist to sell a complete show, <em>Beautiful Inside My Head Forever</em>, by action at Sotheby's. It broke the record for a one-artist auction, raising £111 million. PICTURE: PA

  • With a wealth valued at £215m in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List, Hirst is reported to be Britain's wealthiest artist. PICTURE: PA