Yesterday, as I set out to do some laundry, I went through the usual motions: turn on the TV and search Netflix for something to play in the background as I flit around. I searched for the usual fare: documentaries, true crime shows, alien mysteries, historical stuff. Usually you don't have to watch very intently to get the gist of what's going on at any given moment, and I usually end up watching it a second time if its interesting enough.
As I'm browsing through the fare on offer, the picture above catches my eye in the "Trending Now" section. I thought it may be a documentary about the underwater sculpture park in Grenada, and that sounded interesting, so I dove right in (pun intended).
As soon as the documentary began, I realized that it was not, in fact, about the sculpture park, but something even better: a search for lost treasure. I love shows about lost treasure, but I often find them highly unsatisfying. Usually the only thing they find is that they're on a wild goose chase with nothing to show for their efforts, or they do find something interesting, but we end the movie or series with the crew wrapping up their find while they await proper approvals and fight over who owns what. There's also the case of "The Curse of Oak Island", a show, I'm embarrassed to admit, I have been watching now for five seasons! And all they've found is some bits of bone, pottery, book binding, and a coin. Basically, nothing I've watched yet has given me any satisfaction.
Until I watched Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable.
I watched the story unfold. How they came upon a video and decided they had to find that spot and search for more treasure. How they found the perfect person to fund the excursion (a bored artist not sure what to do next), and suddenly, miraculously, treasure! Not just any treasure, either. Magnificent Objects D'Art were surfacing at an unbelievable rate. Sculptures from all over the world, coins pointing to the time of Nero, a piece of the ship hinting that the vessel could rival anything Noah may have built.
And then the gold. Stunning pieces of art glinting on the bottom of the ocean. Millions (billions?) of dollars worth of golden sculpture. When the first piece broke the surface of the water, it took my breath away as I stood in front of my television, mouth agape, like a five-year old child.
Not only was there satisfaction in the sheer number and beauty of the artifacts steadily breaking the surface, but there was a fantastical theory about who these treasures may have belonged to, and why they were all on the same ship all at the same time.
Legend tells us of a freed slave named Amotan, from Antioch in north-west Turkey. He amassed an extraordinary fortune and spent it on glorious treasures from all over. He loaded 100 of his most precious onto a colossal ship called the Apistos and sailed away to build and furnish a lavish temple to the sun god Apollo. Amotan's ship sank and lay undiscovered for almost two millennia, his treasures and story lost to time.
I also found great satisfaction that about three quarters of the way through the documentary, we are shown not only oceanic shots of the treasures, but also the sculpture, cleaned (but not excessively, I loved that corals and other marine life were left in situ on the pieces), and on display at a museum in Venice, Italy.
I was so entranced by this movie, that after dinner I put it on again, so my husband could also enjoy it. He marveled at everything right along side me. However, he does not watch anything with the child-like innocence that I do, and he did bring up some questionable material. But I shushed him, and we continued to watch.
When I woke up today I decided that I had to a) find out more about this treasure; and b) blog about it. I'd like to say that I was not surprised when I found out that Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable is actually a mockumentary to compliment Damien Hirst's (the aforementioned 'bored artist') new collection. I'd like to say that, but I really can't. There were signs, for sure, but I think I didn't want to notice them. I wanted to believe.
For example, I was wondering why they were able to whisk away all the treasures to a foreign country. I've watched enough actual documentaries to know that a whole lot of it has to stay in the country where its found, for various reasons. I was concerned when they were bringing up all the gold pieces in broad daylight without any cover, to me that just screamed dangerous. In that respect, I figured they just did re-shoots after the fact, so that they could get the maximum emotional response from the audience. Then there was the demon statue, which came out of the water at a height of about 4 feet. Once it made it to the museum, it had grown substantially to about 60 feet. Then there were the three busts, the camera pans across the back and the word "CHINA" is clearly visible... I was confused by that one. And of course, the one that bothered my husband the most, Mickey Mouse.
As I googled this subject, I found that many (within and without the art world) were incensed that Hirst would dare do something like this. How could he possible have duped everyone and filmed this fake movie about a fake ancient legend (Amotan's full name is Cif Amotan II, which is an anagram for "I am Fiction", and his ship, the Apistos, translated to "unbelievable".), and filled it with unimaginative art to bring crowds to his new exhibit?
Those in the art world were outraged and screamed that this was the end of his career. Lay people were angry at being tricked into believing it was all real.
I thought the sculpture was beautiful. There was no rhyme or reason to the collection, and I loved that about it. I liked the fact that he took these art forms that have been done and redone, polished them, then added the sea life to breathe new life into it, so to speak. And I love that I was tricked - that I did believe. That is what makes a mockumentary great, when you believe that it is real, and say "you got me", when you find out that it was not. Not only did he create the art, but also a fantastic mythos to go with it.
Bottom line, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, from beginning to end. I recommend you watch it if you haven't already, even if you now know that none of it is real.
Visit artsy.net if you're interested in seeing more from Damien Hirst or perhaps thinking about purchasing an original piece of his art.
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