If viewers of Andromeda and the Sea Monster (2017) can tear their eyes away from the damsel in distress they might notice, amid the various species of crustacean clinging to the back of the bronze sculpture, an inflatable crab—a clear nod to Jeff Koons’s blow-up lobsters, one of which was recently on display in a show of Hirst’s holdings at his Newport Street Gallery in south London.
Can Hirst capitalise on the viral popularity of his past works? One of the objects in the cabinet titled A fabulous collection of precious jewellery from the wreck of the 'Unbelievable' (2017)
Hirst’s appropriation of an Ife head sculpture—one of many ancient artefacts reworked by the artist and his team—caused a small uproar following the show’s opening. But Hirst also appropriated himself. In the vitrine titled A fabulous collection of precious jewellery from the wreck of the Unbelievable (2017), a gold necklace harks back to the artist’s Medicine Cabinet series, with pills marked “VGR 100”, “XANAX 1.0” and a capsule broken open with his initials on it.
Damien Hirst's Aten, Hathor and Aspect of Katie Ishtar Yo-landi
Among the many 2017 works modelled on (mostly topless) celebrities are the pop star Rihanna as Aten and singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams as Unknown Pharaoh. But a few figures remain a mystery. Is that the actress Sienna Miller as Tadukheba or the Sphinx? Is Kate Moss the model for Hathor? Hirst’s studio, Science LTD, is “not commenting on specifics”, although it is clear that several sculptures are based on Hirst’s girlfriend, the model Katie Keight, including the figure atop The Warrior and the Bear, and also Aspect of Katie Ishtar Yo-landi, in which Keight sports a hairstyle borrowed from the South African singer Yolandi Visser.
Detail from one of Damien Hirst's Grecian Nudes, made from pink marble
Subtlety has never been one of Hirst’s strong points, and anyone who believed these works to be ancient treasures would soon desist upon spotting a coral-covered Mickey Mouse or Volkswagen symbols stamped on drawings. A peek around the back of the Grecian Nudes series (2017) reveals an embossed “© 1999 Mattel Inc. CHINA”—the same markings seen on Barbie dolls, on whose proportions these “ancient” works have been modelled.
Damien Hirst's anagram signature at his show in Venice
In the imaginary narrative that introduces the show, these treasures came from a ship that sank off the coast of East Africa. They had belonged to a freed slave called Cif Amotan II, whose name can be rearranged to spell “I am a fiction”. Meanwhile, the Old Master-style drawings on paper and vellum in the show are all signed “In this dream”, a mystery that shouldn’t take Hirst fans long to solve.
• Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable (until 3 December), Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, Venice
• For more on this show, see Damien Hirst banks on Venice show for his renaissance