Damien Hirst spectacle hits Venice | Arts | DW | 10.04.2017
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Damien Hirst spectacle hits Venice

The enfant terrible of the art world had gone quiet, but now Damien Hirst is back with a mega exhibition in Venice that features around 200 never-before-seen works.

British artist Damien Hirst worked for 10 years on his latest show, which features faux ancient statues depicting mythical fables, which, according to the show's theme, have been rescued from the sea. The sculptures of monsters in battle with lions and snakes, or a Cyclops' head covered in coral and barnacles, are part of a double exhibition that opened on Sunday, titled "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable." It is being held in the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana halls in Venice's old customs house.

Hirst's Demon with Bowl fills the Palazzo Grassi atrium (picture alliance/dpa/A. Merola)

Hirst's "Demon with Bowl" fills the Palazzo Grassi atrium

French fashion mogul, entrepreneur and art collector François Pinault describes the project as "daring, excessive and ambitious." The 80-year-old has known Hirst for about 30 years and placed two of his own museums at Hirst's disposal.

The venues also offered the advantage of space. Hirst's "Demon with Bowl" sculpture, for example, is 18 meters (59 feet) high and fills the entire atrium of the Palazzo Grassi.

Myth about a shipwreck

The exhibition that opened on April 9 tells the story of the legendary sunken art treasure held in the merchant ship "The Apistos," which went down in the sea near Venice around 2,000 years ago.

A number of sculptures of ancient gods and goddesses (including one that resembles Kate Moss), and which depict fables and legends from the time, are said to have been reclaimed and revived for the show.

But this set-up is intended to keep the exhibition-goer guessing.

"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," Martin Bethenod, director of the two venues owned by the Foundation Pinault, told AFPTV. "There is this ambiguity which leaves space for dreams...There are different levels of interpretation that overlap, which give the project its richness and complexity."

Cronos Devouring his Children, by British artist Damien Hirst (picture alliance/dpa/A. Merola)

"Cronos Devouring his Children," by British artist Damien Hirst

Critics polarized

Critical reactions to the show by the artist best-known for his shark preserved in formaldehyde ("The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"), and who won the 1995 Turner Prize, have been divided. 

"This show is, quite frankly, absurd,” said Rachel Campbell-Johnston of "The London Times." "It should be dumped at the bottom of the sea."

But Jonathan Jones of "The Guardian" was effusive in his praise: "...the arrogant, exciting, hilarious, mind-boggling imagination that made him such a thrilling artist in the 1990s is audaciously and beautifully reborn."

"Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" runs through December 9.

pl/sb/kbm (dpa, AFP)

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