Damien Hirst’s Post-Truth Shipwreck in Venice

SLIDESHOW: ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ by Damien Hirst.

The story of a shipwreck is imagined through a collection of treasures created by British artist Damien Hirst.

An exhibition that British artist Damien Hirst has been working on for nearly a decade has been unveiled at two Venice museums owned by French billionaire François Pinault.

Until 3 December 2017, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana are hosting ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’, the first major solo exhibition dedicated to Hirst in Italy since 2004. The exhibition is displayed across 5,000 square metres of museum space and marks the first time the two Venetian venues are both dedicated to a single artist.

It is Hirst’s most ambitious and complex project to date, and is “exceptional in scale and scope”, according to a note from the two venues. “The exhibition tells the story of the ancient wreck of a vast ship, the Unbelievable… and presents what was discovered of its precious cargo: the impressive collection of Aulus Calidius Amotan — a freed slave better known as Cif Amotan II — which was destined for a temple dedicated to the sun,” adds the note. The show was curated by Elena Geuna.

The ‘post-truth’ nature of the exhibition nods to the exoticism and mystery of shipwrecks. Hirst also paid a film crew to shoot scuba divers on a simulated rescue mission near Zanzibar, filming sculptures being dragged from the seabed.

“By its excess, by its ambition, and finally by its audacity, ‘Treasures’ makes a complete break with all that [Hirst] has achieved so far,” says Pinault in a note. “The works do not fit into any conventional aesthetic category or canonical structure. They emanate a sense of an almost mythological power, plunging the beholder into a state of mind that oscillates constantly between bewilderment and enthusiasm.”

The exhibition highlights a relationship that goes back to the early 1990s between the artist and Pinault, who personally owns several Hirst works. The exhibition is being viewed by many as an attempt at a comeback by Hirst, whose valuations suffered in the wake of the financial crisis and the subsequent crash of the art market.

However, according to Pinault, the project was imagined long before that. “The first time Damien Hirst spoke to me about his grand project, his ‘Treasures’, was almost 10 years ago,” he recalls. “He was then at the height of his fame, recognised and adulated. He had achieved all the goals he had set himself when he was a young man, destitute and poor. But he was still dreaming of new horizons. By all accounts, he wished to put his creative powers to the test again. A few years later, during a visit to his studio, he showed me the first works he had created as part of this great project. The effect was spectacular, dazzling and baffling. And that was only the beginning.

“Nothing stops him, neither difficulties, nor the conventional codes and canons of art, nor controversies and judgements — often all too summary. I admire his readiness to expose himself to danger,” adds Pinault.

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