In Depth

Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

Francois Pinault, president of the Palazzo Grassi, on the Venice museum's extraordinary exhibition that has been a decade in the making

The first time Damien Hirst spoke to me about his grand project 'Treasures' was almost ten years ago. He was then at the height of his fame, recognised and adulated. He had achieved all the goals he had set himself when he was a young man, destitute and poor. But he was still dreaming of new horizons. By all accounts, he wished to put his creative powers to the test again. A few years later, during a visit to his studio, he showed me the first works he had created as part of this great project. The effect was spectacular, dazzling and baffling.

And that was only the beginning. By its excess, by its ambition, and finally by its audacity, Treasures makes a complete break with all that he has achieved so far. The works do not fit into any conventional aesthetic category or canonical structure. They emanate a sense of an almost mythological power, plunging the beholder into a state of mind that oscillates constantly between bewilderment and enthusiasm.

Nothing stops him – difficulties, conventional codes and canons of art, or controversies and judgments (often all too summary). I admire his readiness to expose himself to danger. Ever since we first met in the early 1990s, and up to the present, he has continued to abandon paths that he himself was the first to trace. With boundless energy and striking presence of mind, he tirelessly observes the mystery of living, embracing its grace and its violence in the same spirit. Fascinated by the interaction between art and science, he steadily pushes back the boundaries of creation. If his oeuvre is constantly renewed, his work seeks to thwart the wiles of a fate to which he refuses to submit.

It is quite natural that I should have decided to help fully realise the ambitions of this radical, original and invigorating experience by opening up the spaces of both Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana to him, in which the works respond to each other as in an interplay of mirrors. This singular and daring adventure has enthralled me; I am well aware that in all the world, few institutions would be able to engage with an artistic dream as wild as this one.

FRANCOIS PINAULT is a businessman and leading collector of contemporary art, acquiring the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana to open up his collection to the public. Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable by Damien Hirst is at the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice, until 3 December. Tickets €18; palazzograssi.it

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