Welcome to the world of Damien Hirst

By Anna Luccinetti

Venice, 2017. Imagine a wreck discovered at the bottom of the ocean with treasure five times more valuable and richer than Tutankhamun’s. This is what Damien Hirst has created in his latest exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. However, Hirst has not only imagined it – he created his own treasure and presented it for the first, and last time, in Venice in occasion of the Venice Biennale.

The ‘treasure’ is so large that it had to be shown in two major exhibition spaces in Venice; the Palazzo Grassi and Punta dellaDogana. When entering the first venue the spectator sees one of the many monumental pieces that characterised Hirst’s latest work; a bronze statue of a demon whose height is just over 60 foot. This is merely a taste of what the spectator is to experience as both spaces are completely filled with breath-taking artworks , the dimensions of which are nothing less than colossal.

The real inventive aspect of this work is the story constructed behind it. Indeed, it took Hirst over ten years of work to complete this project. He fabricated a whole story surrounding the treasure, the wreck and the history of its shipwreck. According to this tale, in 2008, sea divers found the wreck of a ship named Unbelievable that once belonged to the freedmen who lived between the first and second century. The legend tells that the collection was being transported to a temple for safe keeping when the Unbelievable wrecked due to the weight. The wreck resulted in the loss of all the treasures which have since laid at the bottom of the ocean for over two thousand years.

It is clear that Hirst aims to persuade the audience of the authenticity of this legend as every artwork is presented with specific information and historical context. Hirst also made his bluff more convincing by creating sculptures with coral incrustations, labelling them as ‘not yet restored’. The artist’s commitment to create a credible story is demonstrated by the ‘photographic evidence’ exhibited, showing the statues at the bottom of the ocean. These pictures weren’t edited, Hirst actually hired sea divers to take pictures of his artworks underwater.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to believe the authenticity of this exhibition as the collection presents artworks that remain obviously separate in historical cultures. Hirst plays with the audience’s mind as he is determined to make them believe his story; however, he is the one who makes the legend even more unbelievable, as within the collection the spectator sees statues that figure Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Walt Disney.

Hirst tells the audience a fairy tale which we are initially more than likely to believe. He knows that the audience wants to believe that something so marvellous can be true; Hirst bases his experience on human’s two opposing instincts – believing in what one is told and not believing in things too good to be true. However, to have a full experience of Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable we need to put prejudices aside and let Hirst convince us. Let’s believe whatever Damien Hirst says.


Anna Lucchinetti

Featured image: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

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