Damien Hirst makes a colossal return with sunken ‘treasures’ in Venice
By CHARLES MCQUAID | Art | 18 April 2017

Hydra and Kali discovered by four divers Photographed by Christoph Gerigk ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

Top Image: ‘Hydra and Kali discovered by four divers’. Photographed by Christoph Gerigk © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

Damien Hirst has been quiet of late, his last substantial body of work being Schizophrenogenesis in 2014. But the iconic artist synonymous with the thrilling 90s UK art scene is back with a new exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.


‘Demon with Bowl’ (Exhibition Enlargement). Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/SIAE 2017

The first solo exhibition in Italy dedicated to Hirst since 2004, the show takes over the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Venice – the first time both spaces have been dedicated to a single artist. Displayed across 5,000 metres, it tells a story of the ancient wreck of a ship called the ‘Unbelievable’ and its so-called treasure – Hirst’s pieces.

Ranging from relatively small torso figures to an 18m high sculpture titled ‘Demon with Bowl’, the dramatic pieces channel the imagination of the artist who once put a tiger shark in a glass tank. They also channel a generous budget and timeframe, the exhibition reportedly taking ten years to put together at a reported cost of £50m.

The exhibition guide explains the ‘origins’ of the artefacts as such: “In 2008 the wreck of a treasure ship called the Apistos, which means the Unbelievable, was found on the seabed off east Africa. The ship sank 2000 years ago with a cargo full of global artefacts that were collected by an emancipated slave called Cif Amotan II. The beautiful artefacts became weathered in a magical way, they became covered in colourful corals and zany crustacean growths. Archeologists approached the immensely wealthy Hirst so that he could use his wealth to recover it. These artefacts are what make up the exhibition.”

The crux of the exhibition is that it turns ancient history on its head, exploring the notion of the post-truth culture we live in today. It’s a timely subject: at the end of 2016, Google banned 200 fake news publishers from one of its ad networks in response to the growing presence of ‘fake news’ articles online. And as much as President Donald Trump’s trashing of the “fake media” softens the concept, examples like Google’s ban demonstrate just how often the internet is utilised to manipulate the truth.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable runs at Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi until 3 December 2017.

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