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A Journey Through the Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

Damian Hirst’s colossal exhibition took 10 years to complete, occupies more than 50,000 square feet, and is housed in 2 different museums

Venice is hosting a fantasy world filled with terrible and beautiful monsters resurrected from a mythical wreck in the Indian Ocean. The massive display of contemporary art is curated in two separate museums, the Punta Della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi, both owned by French billionaire and art collector François Pinault. Behind the 189 sculptures is an unbelievable story about the shipwreck of the legendary Apistos. The exhibition guide opens with the following Shakespearean excerpt.

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The former trade hub of Venice offers a fitting sea-side location for the underwater themed art show. Situated on the Grand Canal, Venice’s Palazzo Grassi features the enormous Demon with Bowl. The statue stands an impressive 60 feet tall in the courtyard of the museum. It is so large it had to be assembled inside the museum. The headless figure resembles another giant wonder lost in time, the Colossus of Rhodes. The video below shows a time-lapse of it’s construction.

Damian Hirst is a British artist from Leeds. He studies Fine Arts at Goldsmiths college in the 1980’s and now lives in London. Through his work, he explores the concept of belief and uncertainty rooted in the human experience. Hirst attempts to challenge the way society thinks by delving into the relationships between life and death, science and religion, and fact vs fiction. Some of his earlier work featured in London’s Tate Modern includes a shark suspended in a giant tank of formaldehyde entitled, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991). After being relatively quiet for the last ten years, the artist has put his career and reputation on the line with this decade-long project.

The exhibit is based on the story of Cif Amotan II, a freed slave from Antioch who lived around the first or second century AD in the Roman Empire. Upon his freedom, he acquired an excessive amount of wealth, collecting treasures and relics from civilizations in every corner of the world. Amotan loaded one hundred of his treasures onto a colossal ship called the Apistos – ancient Greek for ‘The Unbelievable.’ He set sail for a temple he built to store his collection of artifacts. Along the way, weighed down by the sheer mass of it’s priceless cargo, the ship sank off the coast of East Africa, plunging its horde to the bottom of the ocean where they would be lost for the next two thousand years until their discovery in 2008.

The story, however believable it may seem, begins to unravel as visitors walk through the museum. Clues in the many sculptures and artifacts lead the audience to the conclusion that the story is, in fact, just a story. It is all a hoax, brilliantly designed to capture the viewer’s imagination and make them question its reality. Hirst manufactured this ancient fantasy world to make the audience question what they believe. It explores  the  blurred  lines  between  fact  and  fiction.  Some  critics  think  Hirst’s  work  may  be  partly influenced by the “fake news” that is so rampant in media today. In an interview with the New York Times, Hirst said of the exhibit, “it’s all about what you want to believe.”

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