Colossal Relics

The first major solo exhibition dedicated to the British artist Damien Hirst (b.1965) in Italy since his 2004 retrospective in Naples opens across the two Venetian venues of the Pinault Collection. Running concurrently to the Venice Biennale, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is displayed across 5,000 square metres of the Palazzo Grassi, as well as its sister space, the Punta della Dogana. In addition to this being a landmark presentation for Hirst, this is the first time that the two galleries host shows dedicated to a single artist.

Elena Geuna curates the monographic displays – a task that she is familiar with, having curated major solo shows of work by Rudolf Stingel (2013) and Sigmar Polke (2016) presented at Palazzo Grassi. Nearly 10 years in the making, this new project from the internationally renowned YBA tells the story of the ancient wreck of a vast ship, the Unbelievable (known as Apistos in the original Koine Greek). Through an ambitious and complex maze of large-scale sculptures and video works, Hirst invites audiences to engage with imaginary relics from the deep: the precious cargo of freed slave Aulus Calidius Amotan.

Hirst appropriates this fictitious tale to forge a new series of pieces that mimic a museum collection. Sphinx statues and a giant Cyclops skull create a fantasy world of items that were destined for a temple dedicated to the sun. These objects are carefully placed within a sea of digital videos that document their imaginary discovery in the depths of the ocean. Complete with coral and deep-sea wear-and-tear, the pieces continue the artist’s interest in challenging the viewer’s perspective while commenting on art’s changing status as time unravels.

The colossal Demon with Bowl (2017), housed within Palazzo Grassi’s central courtyard, provides a daunting visualisation of the power of the Gods as well as the expenses used to create such a monumental tribute. Woven within the fabric of the show are contemporary references that subtly play with the audience’s engagement with the ‘historic’ collection: the familiar characters of Mickey, Mowgli and Baloo all feature amongst the classical Grecian sculptures of Medusa, Hydra and Kali.

Damien Hirst, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, until 3 December, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice.


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1. Damien Hirst, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Palazzo Grassi.