Damien Hirst's new show in Venice Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is a huge solo show dedicated to a living artist, covering both immense and fascinating sites of the Pinault Foundation, Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi.
We from Antenna are happy to contribute with a downloadable app for both platforms, Apple and Android. In fact the content of the app corresponds in audio and pictures to what is distributed to the visitor as printed brochure at the entrance of the exhibition: explanations to a wide selection of works on display. But these are very different from the usual educational approach of multimedia and audio guides in which curators, critics and narrators offer an artistic or historical background.
In this case visitors first get to know about the legend of freed slave Cif Amotan II whose ship Apistos loaded with his enormous art collection foundered, and wreck with the treasures has been rediscovered near the East-African coast in 2008 after 2000 years. So this is the background for the visitor when he starts meeting the statue of a man on a horse, constricted by a monumental snake which is on one hand recalling the entire art historic tradition of Laocoon representations from Antiquity to Renaissance, on the other hand clearly showing its appetence to the style of computer generated movies. A pharaoh resembles singer Pharrell Williams, a goddess Kate Moss, a bronze statue covered with seaweeds is evidently Mickey Mouse. But no one of all these possible associations is included in the storytelling which accompanies the visitor. All commentaries about the works are strictly related to its presumed past in antique times. Tadukheba is a foreign consort of the pharaoh Akhenaten who reigned from around 1353 to1337 BC. Even the shield of Achilles described by Homer is figuring among the artefacts and is described as "a fiction, an exercise in artistic invention that exceeds anything a human craftsman should be capable of producing." The guide at this point becomes a basic part of Damien Hirst's work itself, of the artist's strategy. His invented past embraces all cultures and origins, the presumed art collection is perfectly globalized as well as the effective contemporary stylistic references of the artworks themselves. On this basis it's all up to the visitor to believe in the unbelievable and over all to create his own belief in the art of today.
The question of belief is in the air even before you enter the Punta della Dogana. Outside the former customs house is a lifesize statue of a man on a rearing horse, both constricted by a monumental snake. The man’s face is a terrified rictus, the horse strenuously anatomical in its every standing vein – this is the classical Laocoön statue crossed with the sculptures of Leonardo and Messerschmidt. It is both jaw-dropping and hyperbolic, with overtones of computer-generated movies. People touch it to see if the twinkling white substance is real, which it is: Carrara marble, in fact. And yet it looks fake.