A shipwreck. A disaster. A failure – that’s what the art world said about Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable , his mega-exhibition at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi/Punta della Dogana double header. Lighten up, this is Damien Hirst, YBA poster boy and mug shot. And the Wreck is the kind of show that only asks for a bit of humor as you enjoy the lavish fantasy and Palazzo Grassi’s gorgeous exhibition spaces.
A legendary exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of The Unbelievable is a visual story about the discovery of an ancient shipwreck and its unfathomable cargo, a collection of monumental bronze and marble statues and gold coins and ingot, from Cif Amotan II, slave-turned-freedman.
It’s big, it’s extravagant, it’s over the top. And it’s fun. Best of all, it’s all Hirst, who bankrolled the research, discovery and subacquatic archaeological excavation of the 100 works of art which, um, he created. Yeah, you read correctly. Hirst made everything, and made it all to look like it was submerged underwater for millennia.
From the production of incredible bronzes (seemingly distressed from centuries underwater) and the “contemporary reproductions” to the discovery backstory, images/videos and research collaboration with University of Southampton’s Center for Maritime Studies, Hirst fabricated the entire exhibition. And fabrication is definitely a double entendre.
Look closely and you’ll start to catch on to the joke. As I perused through the hundreds of objects likke an academic – marble, gold and bronze, crystal, jade and malachite, oh my! – Darius pointed out that the Nerfertiti bust looked like Rihanna (it is). And then I got it, these heroes, gods and leviathans and more are all fantasy. And what a fantasy it is. Doesn’t everyone dream of finding buried treasure? Hirst just decided to make it happen.
Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is a bit like going to dinner party with Steve Zissou, Jacques Cousteau, Indiana Jones and Marcel Duchamp, and Baron Munchaussen’s cooking. In other words, it is reckless abandon. And I love it.