In two weeks, starting Sunday April 9, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice present Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, a new project by Damien Hirst that will run across both venues.
Hirst’s latest project has been ten years in the making and this will be the first major solo show dedicated to the artist in Italy since his 2004 retrospective at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
What exactly IS Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable? Good question, hardly anyone knows at this point. This vast exhibition has been called his most ambitious undertaking yet. 189 works will be distributed across the two expansive Venetian museums belonging to the French collector François Pinault.
Hirst has done his best to avoid the media attention that would usually preface an undertaking of such scale. Sarah Hughes says in The Guardian,
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for British art’s jester king. In recent years, Hirst’s once gilded reputation has taken something of a battering. Although the 2012 retrospective at Tate Modern was rapturously received, bringing with it a renewed reminder of the power of early works such as ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ and ‘Mother and Child’, Divided, recent exhibitions have been panned – ‘Schizophrenogenesis’ was condemned for coasting on past glory, while 2012’s painting-focused ‘Two Weeks, One Summer’ received scathing one-star reviews – and there is a nagging sense that these days his art can resemble a factory production line, with endless copies of his popular “spot” paintings churned out in the name of brand recognition.”
That’s kind of the general consensus in the art world about today’s richest living artist. James Fox, the journalist who has spent the last few years working with Hirst on an autobiography says,
“I can’t say much but what I will say is that [Treasures] is quite extraordinary and will astonish a lot of people. I’ve never seen such an ambitious and impressive show from one artist. It’s startling.”
Catherine Meyer writes for the Financial Times of London and spent the most time with Hirst accompanying him on dives ad interviewing him at length. She says,
Hirst is fascinated by wealth and by the metal that underpins and represents it: gold.
‘There is always that scene in the movie where you open a suitcase and it shines on your face. It’s an amazing material and it brings out the best and the worst in people… Probably the worst.‘
Treasures reprises and broadens the theme of false idols and muses on the fallibility of collectors. Amotan’s supposed hoard includes not only pieces hailed as originals — drawn from a dizzying spread of continents and traditions, pre-Columbian works from South and Mesoamerica alongside Egyptian, Greek and Roman statuary — but also ‘fakes” and “copies’.
Of course any fake created in the first or second century would have matured by degrees into a curiosity and eventually an antiquity, acquiring significant value. It’s an idea that clearly delights Hirst, who for several years amused himself by buying fake Picassos on eBay, amassing more than 100 and inflating the prices of even the crudest of copies by doing so.
Meyers’ article ends with this bit,
This is the riddle posed by Amotan’s sphinx — and to which she is Hirst’s answer. Treasures “taps into a desire for belief, for a connection with the past”, he says,
‘What’s unknown is how it will be perceived, but maybe I am worrying more than is necessary, really, because people are willing to believe. I think they want to believe.‘
Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable runs April 9- December 3, at the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana in Venice. For more info (not that there’s much at this point) go here.
(Photos, Christoph Gerigk)