Sunday, 14 May 2017

Treasures from the Wreck of the 'Unbelievable'

A couple of weeks before I went to Venice, I saw a review for Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable' , the new exhibition of works by Damien Hirst.

It seemed intriguing, so having time, I went to see it.

The exhibition claims to be the items discovered that a wreck was discovered, in 2008, of a 2nd Century ship, full of treasures collected by a wealthy former slave. It is, of course, entirely untrue. But they have put a lot of effort into making it sound convincing.

I started in the Palazzo Grassi (the exhibition is in two locations, Palazzo Grassi and Dorgana) 

The Palazzo Grassi is a large, canalside mansion, with 3 stories surrounding a central atrium. 

Right now, the atrium is rather full of a 60' tall bronze demon (or, if you ignore the talons, a 60' tall naked headless man)

I'm not sure that it would be a decorating choice I'd make, if I ever happen to have a palace on the Grand Canal, but it's quite dramatic. And a little odd. 

As are most of the other exhibits.

I found a bust of Mazikeen. (or, 'The Skull beneath the Skin', as Mr Hirst calls her)

Then there was Andromeda and the monster, which gave more than a nod to Hirst's famous pickled sharks..

I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Andromeda and the Sharks and Things with Tentacles with the lovely gilded and decorated ceiling.

There are some pieces which a cynical person might think are the tiniest bit inconsistent with an 1,800 year old shipwreck...

As you continue round the exhibition, it becomes clear that Hirst is riffing upon, a whole range of targets - the solemnity of museums and their careful speculation about artifacts, his own, and other artists' works, (I didn't realise it at the time, but even the giant naked demon is a take on William Blake's miniature painting, 'The Ghost of a Flea')

There are also takes on modern scientific research (dressed up as a claim that the mouse and the ear were parts of a giant statue of Zeus)

Some of the pieces are beautiful in their own right, such as this 'Sun Disk'

Others look more like props from a Indiana Jones film.

And some are just entertaining, like the Unicorn skulls...

I enjoyed the exhibition. I am not sure whether it is good art or not, but it is good fun, although I felt it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously. In commenting on how seriously art and museums take themselves, it seems to have fallen into the same trap. I got the impression that Hirst was having fun creating the exhibition, and I cannot help but think that the exhibition would have benefited from loosening up a little. I think adding a cocktail bar and some music would improve things.

(I think also that the exhibition is a little too big and repetitious - there are only so may fake artifacts you can see before they start looking the same..)

But over all, it is fun, and I'm glad I went.

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