Controversial Artist Stages Fake Shipwreck, Sells ‘Treasures’ For Millions

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Artist Damien Hirst always aims to shock.

Having already exhibited a dead shark in a vitrine of formaldehyde, a severed cows head on which live maggots feasted, and an 18 th-century skull covered in platinum with over 8,000 diamonds, you might wonder just how, exactly, Hirst schemes on living up to his own hype.

After a 10 -year hiatus from making art, Hirst has stimulated his best bid, in the form of an underwater art show illustrating the remains of a fictional shipwreck. The show is called Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable, and in typical Hirst fashion, its not inexpensive. According to The New York Times, Treasures cost the artist millions of dollars to make and Parisian collector Franois Pinault millions to present.( Neither gave exact figures .) In turning, the cheaper works on view will cost potential buyers around $500,000 each, with the big-ticket items expensing a cool$ 5 million.

Damien Hirst and Science Ltd All rights reserved DACS/ SIAE 2017
Damien Hirst, “Hydra and Kali Discovered by Four Divers.” Image: Christoph Gerigk.

The exhibition revolves around a mythical story of a shipwreck that, according to Hirsts story, was detected off the coast of eastern Africa in 2008. The wreckage allegedly contained a bounty of treasure once belonging to a freed Turkish slave who rose to riches during his lifetime between the first and second centuries. When his ship, the Unbelievable, was downed, his trove of sculptural objects were lost for centuries.

Until recently, that is, when divers salvaged some of the barnacle-encrusted pieces from the rubble. To add to the mystique of his self-spun mythology, Hirst actually filmed people recovering the sunken goodies from the sea. The shipwrecked treasures now on view in Venice include massive, kitsch carves depicting pharaohs, mythical figures, ocean brutes and goddesses many of which curiously resemble contemporary pop figures like Rihanna and Pharrell.

Awakening via Getty Images

For Hirst, who has long been obsessed with mythology, the exhibition is a very elaborate exercise in the importance of imagination.

Believing, its different from religion, the artist told the Times, reportedly over and over. Its what we need to do today. When youre an artist, everything you do you think is about the world we are living in today. And now with all the liars operating our governments, its far easier to believe in the past than it is in the future.

For some, Hirst is the ultimate maximalist, his exorbitant visions transcending both good taste and bad in their sheer immensity. His work aims to literally take the spectators breath away, showing that art can be as spectacular as a blockbuster film, without the mediation of a screen.

As The Guardian put it: It takes a kind of genius to move kitsch to the point where it becomes sublime.

Awakening via Getty Images

For others, however, Hirsts prove resembles nothing more than a shock artists try at a comeback, produced less through ingenuity than through obscene quantities of fund. The Telegraph called the prove a spectacular, bloated folly, an enormity that may prove the shipwreck of Hirsts career, adding that it was characterised by lifeless surfaces, lurid emotions, and vile, excessive details, such as got a couple of toadstools growing on the base. Ugh.

When overblown excess and unabashed grandiosity so viscerally conjure associations with the present U.S. president, Hirsts longstanding eye for opulence feels, at best, tone deaf and, at the worst, emetic. Although optimism and imagination are clearly the aims of Hirsts under-the-sea escapade, the end result feelings more like a last-gasp showing of extravagance as gaudy as Trump Tower.

Awakening via Getty Images

Awakening via Getty Images

Awakening via Getty Images

Hirsts run will be on view at the Palazzo Grassi until Dec. 3.

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