In 2008, an ancient shipwreck was discovered off the coast of East Africa, full of treasures apparently collected by a freed slave Cif Amotan II who became exceptionally wealthy and was sending his immense collection of treasures to a temple he was building to house them in perpetuity.
Divers have rescued the sculptures, gold coins, jewellery and other precious items from the shipwreck and they are now on display in the Palazzi Grassi, with the immense statue “Demon with Bowl”, 18m tall, in the central courtyard. Some of the sculptures have been cleaned, others left covered with coral and barnacles. Videos show the massive operation to retrieve the sculptures and treasures from the sea bed. One question is how Walt Disney knew about Goofy and Mickey from antiquity in order to adopt them in his cartoons.
It is not real, of course, but it is Damien Hirst’s immense artistic world, woven around this imaginary story – and is the “must see” exhibition in Venice this summer. The amount of work is astonishing, especially when you realise that “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is located in two different venues, where each is a major exhibition in itself. The imagination and the artistry is incredible, this first part set within the refurbished interiors of the Palazzo Grassi which has new inserted new facilities like lifts, gallery lighting and toilets, while respecting the historic interiors.
Your introduction is the statue “The Fate of a Banished Man” on the Grand Canal – which has an equivalent friend at the other location along the Canal (the Punta Della Dogana). The exhibition is focussed around the former courtyard with the immense statue “Demon with Bowl” and this provides a reference space that you come back to again and again during the exhibition.
An amazing achievement which shows British creativity at its best – complimented by the Phyllida Barlow in the British pavilion at the Biennale itself. What will Damien Hirst do next?