Damien Hirst’s ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’

Damien Hirst’s ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ is a fascinating show. It’s also special seeing the exhibition in its current locations in Venice.

While waiting to buy tickets in the Punta della Dogana at the mouth of the Grand Canal you can watch the Jacques Cousteau like videos of Damien’s divers discovering ‘artefacts’ in turquoise waters. A taster of what’s to come within the gallery.

Damien Hirst Bronze Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable'
Damien HirstTreasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

The first couple of rooms contain large, coral covered bronzes. At first I thought that the coral on the pieces had been grown artificially on their surfaces, in fact the coral is bronze too. A huge bear then a nude with arms out stretched who’s coral growths are equally as large as her breasts. The anatomical detail of these sculptures is created with a modern eye.

The works are ambitious and impressive, in-dispersed  with fabulous underwater photos.

Definitely tongue in cheek. Large marble carvings and gigantic bronze figures are super real in their execution. One female figure fights with a vast seven headed serpent. The pair are so enormous that you can examine them over two floors of the gallery.

Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable Venice Charlotte Steel
Damien Hirst Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable Venice

Later small pieces are displayed as artefacts in vitrines. Gold jewels and objects possessing the sumptuous bling-like qualities that Damien is so good at.

The story of ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ begins in 2008 with the discovery of the wreck of an imagined treasure ship called the Apistos (the unbelievable) found off the coast of East Africa. It supposedly contained the belongings of Cif Amotan II (a freed slave made good.) it sank approx 2,000 years ago. Damien’s role is to finance and orchestrate the recovery of the booty.

This show reminded me of the ‘Bronze’ exhibition at the RA (2012). It too was an eclectic collection of artefacts from around the world dating back to 3700BCE. It had mythical beasts (eg.Chimera of Arezzo), historical figures and little trinkets like in the Hurst show. One true story in particular springs to mind. A majestic dancing Satyr (aprox 400BCE) full of pagan energy (possibly the work of Praxiteles) was discovered near the coast of Sicily 1998.

Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable
‘Dancing Satyr’ (Greece, third or second century BCE)

Gaiseric, King of the Vandals had stolen it during his sack of Rome (455AD). He got ship wrecked (possibly attacked) on his journey home loosing the satyr to the bottom of the sea.

Hirst’s show is a parallel universe to these real sinarios. Like a ‘Game of Thrones’ museum.

Is it a little hollow as art? Is something missing in all the awesomeness?

Could it be the finish of the large figurative works? Is there a lack of soul?

Real artefacts embody much more than the things themselves- history and beliefs.

Who made these sculptures? The same questions occurred to me as when looking at things like the Madonna in the British Museum.

The Hirst show is fantastic entertainment well worth a visit. You can smell the money.

He’s produced a mass of artworks for the global rich. Good luck to him!

Showing at: PALAZZO GRASSI and PUNTA DELLA DOGANA, Venice  04/09 – 12/03/2017

2 Responses

  1. Panos
    | Reply

    When you say ‘The anatomical detail of these sculptures is created with a modern eye’ are you referring to the lack of pubic hair in the female nude?
    Lovely piece! I wish I had gone to see it in Venice too.

    • Charlotte Steel
      | Reply

      Hi P
      For instance there is a sphinx with a very specific face. The bodies aren’t idealised greek forms. There is more detail in the breast and pubic areas, yes! The faces look like the woman next door or the bloke down the pub. It’s in Venice till 3 December at Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi.

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