A journey into the unbelievable: James Cahill describes Damien Hirst’s Venice extravaganza.

This summer marked the unveiling of Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, a gargantuan exhibition ten years in the making. Spread across the two vast sites of the François Pinault Foundation in Venice – an eighteenth-century palazzo and a former customs house – Hirst’s show is a sumptuous, hyperbolic journey through ancient myth and fake history.

The arrayed ‘treasures’ include bronze and marble sculptures of various scales, and myriad artefacts in gold, silver, malachite, jade and other rarefied media. At the core of Hirst’s imaginary museum is the headless bronze-painted Demon with Bowl, which rises eighteen feet through the central atrium of the Palazzo Grassi – a kind of Colossus-of-Rhodes-meets-Gothic-horror-story. The show comes with a suitably fanciful backstory – the treasures are said to be the collection of wealthy freedman, Amotan II, who lived in the first century AD, and who collected voraciously from every corner of the ancient world.

Many of the exhibits are encrusted with marine life. But the story is – of course – a mythic mirage. Unreality – or unbelievability – is the point here. A bronze statue of the metamorphosing Arachne, part caryatid and part spider, stands before a lunette window facing the canal. When I visited, a yacht called ‘Dream’ happened to be floating past – it might almost have been part of Hirst’s dizzying mythosphere.

The exhibition runs until 3 December.