Treasures from Damien Hirst’s “Wreck of the Unbelievable”
Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.
Exhibition by Damien Hirst
Palazzo Grassi, Venice
‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’, Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition, has been 10 years in the making. With countless hints and secrets shared during this period, the exhibition has quickly become one of the most hotly anticipated shows in recent memory. What wasn’t clear though was what it would actually entail. PrettyGreen were lucky enough to visit the exhibition, and we are still searching for what it is that we’ve seen – is it based on fact or, as the title would lead you to believe, indeed a work of fiction? And does it really matter?
Inspired by a long forgotten legend about Cif Amotan II, a freed slave from Antioch (North-West Turkey), who, as the story goes, accumulated an immense fortune on the acquisition of his freedom, proceeded to build a lavish collection of artefacts from the ancient world. However, when Amotan decided to move his collection to a purpose built temple by sea, the ship they were stored on sunk to the depths of the Indian Ocean.
This collection lay submerged until 2008, some 2000 years later, when it was discovered and bought back to life by Hirst, who reportedly invested close to £50million into the salvage operation.
Now, the opening introduction in the guidebook leads us to believe that some of these original artefacts are on display in this exhibition, prior to undergoing restoration. These then sit amongst some more contemporary copies of the recovered items which re-imagine the original, undamaged forms. A story so wonderful, and almost mythological, that the visitor enters the Palazzo Grassi museum in Venice, with perhaps a desperate want to believe the story.
The first thing you see when you enter the atrium is a giant, 16ft bronze (in appearance) headless statue. It is an all-encompassing, arresting sight to start the exhibition, and you stop and stare, but the size triggers more logistical questions than anything – how on earth did they get it in here?! Upon reading later, it is in fact made of resin and was assembled in parts rather than the perhaps naïve idea that they must have raised the roof – miraculous in such an old building.
Moving through the exhibition you then start to swing between emotions of wonderment, bewilderment and then a sense that you have been tricked. While there are beautiful busts of Goddess-like women and old gold coins that you can almost believe are from 1000’s of years ago, you stumble across Mickey Mouse and Goofy covered in what looks like bright coral, next to photos of them being rescued from the bottom of the ocean. And then you remember, it’s Damien Hirst.
Having felt a little let down (whilst also questioning our gullibility when we stumble across, much later on, the 3D printer alongside technical drawings of some of the more believable sculptures), we decided to admire the fact that he can inspire such emotions in his audience. He’s told a beautiful story – which still could have some truth to it we must add – and has taken us all on a journey to a child-like hope and wonder that these hidden treasures exist. We then simply enjoyed what is a vast display of works, that an artist has spent nearly a decade creating.
And finally, what really sets it off is the backdrop – the slowly sinking Venice. A place that defies belief when you first see it, all adding to the experience.
So, while PrettyGreen, a team of people who have always had a fascination in fables, fantasies and fiction, tried to believe that a thread of truth bound this exhibition together, in spite of our accompanying friends dismissing any such notion almost instantly, we found it more amazing that, an exhibition 10 years in the making, touches on very current theme (as highlighted by a visiting art critic) ‘in a climate so focused on fake news, there’s what you know, there’s what you don’t know and there’s what you believe to be true… ‘
So…up to you. We for one would like to believe that there is a little truth hidden inside those magnificent galleries in Venice, but it’s more than likely that we’ll never know for sure.