Damien Hirst returns with art exploring mythology

At this Venice art exhibit, barnacles, sea fans, and myriad coral stud and enshroud bronze deities, triumphant warriors, and even an occasional Walt Disney character.

Courtesy of Christoph Gerigk/Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.
‘Hydra and Kali Discovered by Four Divers,' by Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst’s first major exhibition in 10 years begins not in the gallery but on the page, with the tale of a shipwreck supposedly discovered off the coast of East Africa.

The ship’s contents are said to be the treasures of Cif Amotan II, a freed slave from Antioch, who spent his final days collecting artifacts of distant cultures. The freedman’s plunders were recovered by divers and brought to Venice – or so the story goes.

In the lobby of the Punta della Dogana, visitors see “footage” of divers excavating the treasures.

“A number of the sculptures are exhibited prior to undergoing restoration, heavily encrusted in corals and other marine life, at times rendering their forms virtually unrecognizable,” the exhibition guidebook explains.

Indeed barnacles, sea fans, and myriad coral stud and enshroud bronze deities, triumphant warriors, and even an occasional Walt Disney character.

Noelle Swan/The Christian Science Monitor
Damien Hirst's sculpture of Mowgli and Baloo from the Disney film "The Jungle Book" is on display at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy, May 9, 2017.

The result is a menagerie that bridges land and sea, antiquity and modern life, the familiar and the foreign. In one particularly striking display, distant cultures mingle, as the Hindu goddess Kali faces off with Hydra, the many-headed serpent of Greek mythology. 

In total, the “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition fills two of Venice’s palatial museums, with 189 sculptures ranging from delicate Roman coinage to a decapitated bronze demon rising three stories through the Palazzo Grassi courtyard.

Noelle Swan/The Christian Science Monitor
At 18 meters high, Damien Hirst's "Demon with Bowl" rises three stories through the courtyard of the Pallazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy, May 9, 2017.

Mr. Hirst created each piece in triplicate, a “coral” edition, a “treasure” edition, and a “copy” edition, in keeping with the mythos. Many have reportedly sold, with prices beginning at $500,000.

In decades past, the British artist has drawn both acclaim and condemnation. His diamond-crusted infant skull infuriated parenting groups and his kaleidoscopic images made of butterflies enraged animal welfare activists. This show has also sparked controversy, with some raising concerns of cultural and artistic appropriation.

But for many Hirst fans, the borrowing and melding of cultures – and the debate that it invites – is simply part of the show.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Damien Hirst returns with art exploring mythology
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Arts/2017/0627/Damien-Hirst-returns-with-art-exploring-mythology
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe