Damien Hirst‘s over-the-top art has landed in Rome, where works from his love-it-or-hate-it series “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” are on view alongside antiquities and Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces at the Galleria Borghese.
The Galleria Borghese’s storied art collection, started by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century, includes life-size sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Caravaggio paintings, and classical antiquities. They are displayed amid richly decorated marble halls—an ornate setting that offers the perfect backdrop for Hirst’s elaborate “Treasures.”
“Inserted among the masterpieces of the Galleria’s collection, these works celebrate the desire for variety held by the museum’s founder, Cardinal Scipione Borghese,” the museum said in a statement.
As Italy looks to rebound from the pandemic, which has limited tourism, the government sees the opening of the Hirst show as the start of “a new renaissance for Italy,” minister of culture Dario Franceschini said in a statement.
Featuring expensive materials such as bronze, rock crystal, Carrara marble, and malachite, Hirst’s sculptures—which initially debuted in Venice in 2017—come with an elaborate (and untrue) backstory. Purportedly 2,000 years old, they were supposedly uncovered in the cargo of a sunken ship rescued off the coast of East Africa in 2008, part of an underwater archaeology venture funded by the British artist (hence the coral and barnacles encrusting some of the works).
Even though Hirst produced a flashy Netflix mockumentary about the so-called recovery effort, there were always hints that the dramatic backstory was nothing more than a fantastical fiction. Cif Amotan II, the freed slave said to have amassed the massive collection in the first or second centuries, is actually an anagram for “I am fiction.”
The works, which reportedly cost $65 million to produce, debuted at the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana in 2017 to decidedly mixed reviews. (There was also an animal rights protest involving large quantities of poop.) Artnet News called it “a contemporary-art spectacle of unparalleled ambition,” while said it was “undoubtedly one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade.”
The Galleria Borghese exhibition also features works from Hirst’s polka-dotted “Colour Space” series, which has never been shown in Italy before. The paintings are a departure from his well known “Spot Paintings,” made with mechanical precision on a uniform grid, in that they are much looser, with circles of varying sizes and shapes overlapping one another, betraying the presence of the artist’s hand.
See more photos of the show below.