‘The Wreck of the Unbelievable’: Damien Hirst’s incredible exhibition in Venice

The plan was to get to Croatia by boat – I booked a ferry going from Venice to Poreč, and while I was pondering what to do with a day in Venice, in late June, I spotted an article in The Guardian about Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition. I swiftly booked myself a ticket. In the meantime, the ferry was cancelled owing to bad weather, but Venice was still booked and was my departure point for the bus via Slovenia.

The exhibition is, both figuratively and literally, incredible. It is housed in the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana. A quotation on a poster in the latter of these buildings says “Somewhere between lies and truth lies the truth.” This kind of sums up what I take to be the thrust of what I found to be a fascinating, intriguing and brilliantly executed exhibition.

There is a huge amount for the classicist to enjoy – references abound to classical stories, such as Medusa, the Minotaur, Mercury, the Cyclops, Cerberus, Laocoon, the Hydra, the shield of Achilles… But Hirst has played games with the stories, given modern twists to the characters’ identities, and added his own sense of humour and playful personality.

The conceit involved is that all of these things have been dragged up from the sea-bed, the miraculous discovery of a long-lost ancient ship-wreck belonging to a slave-turned-rich-man who had amassed an enormous fortune of figures, statues and other treasures. The result was, I found, brilliant and exhilarating.


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