Soiled were the streets of Venice last week in the name of Damien Hirst, courtesy of animal activists who literally dumped 88 pounds of turds outside the Palazzo Grassi to protest its forthcoming exhibition of the British artist’s newest work. Sometime around midnight on March 6, the Italian group 100% Animalisti hopped on a boat with poop-packed plastic bags and navigated the city’s canals before docking and carting its load to the contemporary art museum. There, at one of its entrances, the activists did the dung drop, below a white banner that made their message unmistakable: “DAMIEN HIRST GO HOME! BECCATI QUESTA OPERA D’ARTE! 100% ANIMALISTI” — or, in English, what translates roughly to the pooh-poohing jab: “Here is my piece of artwork.”
The cause for the caca fracas is Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, Hirst’s much-anticipated body of work apparently 10 years in the making. Opening on April 9, it also marks his first major solo show in Italy in over a decade. Not much is known about it aside from two obnoxious, incredibly brief promotional videos that flash underwater scenes. Speaking with those who have seen parts of it, the New York Times reported that the project “resembles jeweled buried treasure covered with coral as if just pulled out of the ocean, like relics from the lost city of Atlantis or Captain Nemo. It includes some 250 pieces in various sizes ranging in price from about $400,000 for small jade objects to $4 million for a malachite head of Medusa.”
On its website, 100% Animalisti explains that it wanted to show its contempt toward “this fake artist (like [Hermann] Nitsch and [Maurizio] Cattelan) and those who support him” and blasts Hirst for capitalizing on animals by incorporating them into his past artworks. Hirst has actually killed thousands of butterflies for an exhibition at the Tate Modern and had a tiger shark fished from Australian waters to create his infamous “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991).
“It’s an insult to a city of art, of REAL art,” the activists write about the exhibition, which the Punta della Dogana — left unbesmirched — is co-presenting. They add that they plan on staging future protests before the exhibition opens and during its nine-month run.
Formed in 2003, the group, which describes itself as non-political and non-partisan, has previously targeted Cattelan — twice. In 2011, its members protested his installation at the Venice Biennale, which featured 2,000 stuffed pigeons; later that year, they left a sign outside the Milan offices of the design magazine Abitare, which had published an issue with a cover photo by Cattelan of a human about to snip a canary’s wing.
The group’s recent fecal flak for Damien, though, certainly takes the cake for its drama. Watch the action unfold below, set, of course, to the theme song of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Update, 3/15: A member of 100% Animalisti confirmed to Hyperallergic the origin and source of its materials: “The dung came from our oasis of rescued animals, mainly donkeys and horse dung.”
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.