Netflix releases a documentary about Damien Hirst’s divisive art show

The controversial artist’s ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ sent the art world spiralling when it opened in Venice last summer

Damien Hirst divided the art world last summer when he unveiled Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable in Venice.

The exhibition was made up of 189 works that filled two generous venues, took ten years to put together, and cost a cool $65 million to produce that was funded entirely by the artist’s own bank account – apparently. Facts aren’t all that clear here because there aren’t really any.

The story goes that a team of marine archaeologists enlisted Hirst to recover some long-long treasure that they had discovered off the coast of east Africa. The booty in question dated back to the 1st and 2nd centuries and belonged to a former slave named Cif Amotan II – which, we now know, is actually an anagram for “I am fiction”, and, turns out, a “self-portrait” of Hirst himself. Cue: art world division.

“The best you can hope for is people arguing, mixed reviews” – Damien Hirst (in an interview on Vulture)

In April, art critic and author Laura Cumming wrote on the Guardian, “I have never seen a bigger show in my life”, praising it as a balance of “marvellous” and “monstrous”, and ultimately dishing it out four out of five available stars. While Andrew Russeth was less favourable in his take for Art News, describing it as “a disastrous show” and condemning it as “undoubtedly one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade”. On top of this, Hirst was accused of culturally appropriating African artefacts, to which a spokesperson for the artist responded with a statement noting that the works were “influenced by a wide range of cultures and stories from across the globe and throughout history.”

For Hirst, though, everything was going according to plan. Two days before the show ended on 3 December, Vulture published an interview with the enfant terrible. “As an artist,” said Hirst, “the best you can hope for is people arguing, mixed reviews. Love it and hate it. If you get that, then you’re on the right track. If everyone loves or everyone hates it, you’re in trouble.”

Naturally, the whole thing has resurfaced as a documentary/mockumentary seemingly to piss everyone off once again. Over 90 minutes, we dive to the depths of the ocean with Hirst and a team of researchers as they uncover Cif Amotan II’s / “I am fiction”’s shipwreck, and dredge up somewhere between $330 million and $1 billion in sales for the artist.

Watch Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable here

Subscribe to the Dazed newsletterGet the day on Dazed straight to your inbox