Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable by Damien Hirst
Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates

The Enfant terrible of the art world Damien Hirst presents Venice and to the world 189 new works that have never been seen before. The exhibition Treasures from the “Wreck of the Unbelievable” has been 10 years in the making, and creates a vast world of supposedly salvaged artefacts.

Thanks to 1,000-plus suppliers stretching from Germany to South Africa, the 189 works on display, some of which weigh up to four tons, altogether form what might quite possibly be the single most expensive art show ever put on by a contemporary artist. It reportedly cost Hirst himself £50 million. The fruitful collaboration between the British artist and the Pinault Collection laid the foundations for the creation of this great Damien Hirst exhibition in Italy. The investor and entrepreneur François Pinault described the project as daring, excessive and ambitious, for which he made the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana available to Hirst.

Each piece is part of an elaborate conceit. The sculptures are reminiscent of ancient statues and mythical fables. The exhibits are supposedly all remnants of the art collection of a former Turk named Cif Amotan II, which has been lost at sea since the first or second century until his vessel, The Unbelievable, was rediscovered off the coast of east Africa in 2008.

“The visitor does not really know if the works she sees have spent 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea or if they are the work of the artist,” says Martin Bethenod, director of the two venues, both of which belong to the Francois Pinault Foundation, owned by the French fashion tycoon, a noted collector of Hirst’s work. “There is this ambiguity which leaves space for dreams,” Bethenod explains further. “There are different levels of interpretation that overlap, which give the project its richness and complexity.”

As always, Hirst splits the art world. The critics of the professional world range from kitschy, overcoated to cynical, original, profound. So just go with your gut feeling if you like it or not.