The only thing certain about the artist’s secret exhibition is that he has a lot riding on it
One of the sunken treasures that will feature in Damien Hirst’s Venetian exhibition. Photograph: Christoph Gerigk/Damien Hirst and Science Ltd
Two Venetian museums, the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana, will fling open their doors in a fortnight and allow visitors to view one of the most tightly guarded art exhibitions of recent years.
Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is the first new exhibition of works by Damien Hirst since 2014’s indifferently received Schizophrenogenesis – and the stakes couldn’t be higher for British art’s jester king.
In recent years, Hirst’s once gilded reputation has taken something of a battering. Although the 2012 retrospective at Tate Modern was rapturously received, bringing with it a renewed reminder of the power of early works such as The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and Mother and Child, Divided, recent exhibitions have been panned – Schizophrenogenesis was condemned for coasting on past glory, while 2012’s painting-focused Two Weeks, One Summer received scathing one-star reviews – and there is a nagging sense that these days his art can resemble a factory production line, with endless copies of his popular “spot” paintings churned out in the name of brand recognition.
All of which makes his decision to open an exhibition of this scale in Venice during the Biennale a particularly bold one. “To do a show in arguably one of the most extraordinary artistic settings at a time when Venice will be the focus of collectors and critics – it’s like a musician deciding to make his long-awaited comeback at Wembley Stadium,” says Oliver Barker, chairman for Europe at Sotheby’s and the man who orchestrated Hirst’s notorious 2008 auction Beautiful Inside My Mind Forever.
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