Reality or a dream? Damien Hirst inspires confusion and curiosity through fantastical sculptures in his Venice exhibition, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.” This is Hirst’s first major exhibition in over a decade, so expectations were high for the 51-year-old artist. Hirst’s last success was the Shark-in-a-tank display in 1991, which left the young artist with a substantial reputation.The mystery of this collection lies in the origin of the sculptures. The eye-catching pieces are said to be remnants from the art collection of Cif Amotan II, a freed Turkish slave who came into an exceptional fortune, developing an expensive taste in art. His ship, The Unbelievable, was lost at sea sometime in the 1st century and was supposedly rediscovered off the coast of East Africa in 2008.
Critics are skeptical of the artwork’s authenticity due to the exaggerated photos and videos left as “evidence.” There are also scientific discrepancies; coral loses its color once out of water, but the statues are portrayed with vibrant flora. Lastly, the outstanding detail and intricate carvings almost seem impossibly well preserved for their questionable age of ~2000 years.
With 189 pieces acquired from collections all over the world, Hirst’s shipwreck exhibit is possibly the most expensive contemporary art show ever displayed due to its elaborate creation; one historian believes the pieces were fabricated by Hirst, placed underwater for a month, then retrieved. Whether or not you believe the history of the sculptures, Hirst leaves it to his audience to interpret his enigmatic collection of monumental treasures.