WASHINGTON, January 16, 2018: He’s among Britain’s wealthiest men. He got rich selling things like a 14-foot-long pickled tiger shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde. London’s gallery swells call this stuff “conceptual art.”
Titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” artist Damien Hirst sold his dead, razor-tooth ocean predator for nearly $70,000, which added nicely to his estimated $1 billion net worth today.
“I think money is important for everyone,” Damien Hirst once said, “because the lack of it is so painful.”
Let’s just say Damien Hirst is something of a hustler. A talented hustler.
And that brings us to Hirst’s most ambitious “concept” to date; one chronicled in the documentary “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” currently streaming on Netflix.
And keep the last word of this offering’s title in mind while you watch.
Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable
In 2008, fishermen supposedly caught a gold statue of a curled-up fetal monkey in their nets off the East African coast.
And it was a YouTube video of the event which caught the attention of archaeologist Peter Weiss of the Technishe Universität Heidelberg.
“If these fishermen found one thing, it stands to reason there’s more down there,” says Weiss, “So, I wanted to find this beach and I wanted to talk to these fishermen.”
But Weiss needed someone to bankroll an expedition to search the shipwreck site for more relics. So, Damien Hirst was approached and readily agreed.
“To find a major sponsor and so soon, who had money and interest, was amazing. He was basically prepared to take a gamble,” says Weiss.
“I loved fantasy shipwreck stories when I was a kid,” admits Hirst. “All those old movies about treasures found under the sea.”
While searching the waters off Africa, the expedition finds additional statuary and a Roman coin minted during the reign of Emperor Nero.
Professor Gina Bryant, the expedition’s art historian from the Boston Archaeological Museum, dates the shipwreck as “between the mid-first and mid-second centuries A.D. During this period, there was a Roman market in plunder of earlier classical cities. And a market for artifacts from Egypt.”
Archaeologist Weiss believes the items were acquired by a wealthy Roman trader and former slave named Cif Amotan II.
And the statuary salvaged from the sea floor covers the gamut of cultures, from a bronze representation of the African demon Pazuzu, the seated and contemplative Buddha, to an anthropomorphised mouse that built a magical kingdom some consider the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Oh, and Cif Amotan II is an anagram for “I am fiction.”
Damien Hirst: The Exhibition
The collection, was most on exhibition through December of 2017 at the Punta Della Dogna, Venice Italy, is described as:
‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ has been almost ten years in the making. Exceptional in scale and scope, the exhibition tells the story of the ancient wreck of a vast ship, the ‘Unbelievable’ (Apistos in the original Koine Greek), and presents what was discovered of its precious cargo: the impressive collection of Aulus Calidius Amotan – a freed slave better known as Cif Amotan II – which was destined for a temple dedicated to the sun.
The extremely entertaining “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” is currently streaming on Netflix.
Lead Imaged: Hydra and Kali Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable by Damien Hirst (Venice) – Image by Jacquie Kubin