Behold the Unbelievable

In Art and history, Travels and events by Roger Thomas

“Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” is an extraordinary exhibition by artist Damien Hirst. Believe me. It is on view until December at the Pinault Foundation’s two Venice venues, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana.

The exhibition purports to show treasures recovered from the ancient shipwreck of the Unbelievable. The myth as written is too intricate to impart in full but it is a story that resonates in our time. Cif Amotan, a former slave who achieves riches, builds a lavish collection from the “length and breadth of the ancient world.” He then loads a colossal ship, the Apistos (translating it from Koine Greek yields the English name, Unbelievable) destined for a purpose-built temple (a personal art museum?), which unfortunately sinks en route, off the East coast of Africa, circa 100 CE.

The myth gains power as the eye beholds the “recovered” treasures created by Hirst over the past ten years. A colossal “bronze” demon, headless at nearly seven stories high, stands near its (presumed) head resting on the gorgeous terrazzo floor of the Palazzo Grassi’s piano terra. Nearby the viewer is drawn to tiny golden coins encased in minimalist glass museum cases.

“Discovered” in 2008 (the last time we saw any of Mr. Hirst’s new creations), the wreck has been “excavated and presented for our delectation” in this marvelous Venetian temple of contemporary art, just in time for this year’s Bienniale.


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