“It’s all about what you want to believe,” artist Damien Hirst told the New York Times about his first major exhibition in 13 years, “Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable.” The enormous spectacle, which is on view at collector François Pinault Venetian arts spaces Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, features 190 “ancient” works that date to the second century, allegedly rescued by divers in 2008 from a sunken ship named the Unbelievable near the coast of East Africa, as per Hirst’s elaborate origin story for the show’s contents, according to the Art Newspaper. Among the colossal sculptures, glittering plunder and coral-covered relics are a decapitated demon as tall as a two-story building, a Medusa carved from seductive green stone, a pharaoh that may or may not bear a resemblance to the musical artist Pharrell and an urchin-encrusted bust that looks an awful lot like Hirst himself.
Are the works real, or are they merely fabricated fictions dreamed up by the YBA bad boy to perplex viewers and titillate collectors? Either way, Hirst seems to be encouraging viewers to believe whatever they want. Naturally, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to write some fan fiction.
Demon with Bowl
Psychotropic drugs were all the rage in ancient times. For a hot second this drug called “the demon” was making the rounds, and it was a common site to see mostly nude waiters and nightclubs offering patrons the substance in large fruit bowls. While most feelings of euphoria were the drugs most common side effect, some users reported seeing the nude waiters transform into demons. This sculpture commemorates the disco age of the second century.
The freed slave Cif Amotan II (of Hirst’s story) wasn’t convinced that the Mayan calendar’s prediction for the end of the world—December 12, 2012—was correct. Rather, he felt strongly that the world would end December 14, 2012. And so he commissioned the top stone carvers in the land to make him his own damn calendar.
Yoga was just as much a fitness craze in ancient times as it is today. Celebrity yoga instructors were frequently honored with public sculptures. This instructor, name unknown, was famous for inventing a pose that activated the hamstrings.
Lion Woman of Asit Mayor
Asit Mayor was this really progressive little town in the Mediterranean where people kept lions as pets. But the town had strict leash laws and so while it was a common sight to see people taking their lions for a walk you’d never see one unchained because the fine was upwards of 500 denarii.
In ancient Greece, the Gods had their own department stores, as Gods are wont to do. The stores naturally required department store mannequins on a much larger-than-human scale.
Hydra and Kali
This one time, Kali was in the middle of trying to chop a lot of onions for dinner (easy to do when you have many arms) and Hydra was like, “You’re technique with a kitchen knife really needs work,” and Kali was like “You really think you could be more efficient at this? Just because you have more heads?” It’s not a story many people know, but let’s just say it didn’t end well for Hydra.
Forget Cleopatra and Hatshepsut, Tadukheba was one badass Pharaoh. She was also an alien from the planet O’Nirfreti-32 and built the pyramids using magnetic levitation. But when she proposed using the same technology to build a national railway system, she sparked a revolt and retreated back across the galaxy to her more energy efficient plant.
While Tadukheba left a mixed legacy behind on Earth, the people of Asit Mayor still honored her with a public sculpture that depicted her love of lions.
The Warrior and the Bear
In ancient times, fighting with swords while riding atop a bear’s shoulders was a popular sport. However, it was banned because all too frequently the bears would attack and eat the fighters when they were grazed by the sword blades during battle. But the real nail in the coffin for this sport were complaints from animal rights groups, who complained that carrying fighters on they shoulders was injurious to bears’ spines.
Skull of a Cyclops
This is not actually a Cyclops skull, it’s just a big piece of dead coral that divers mistook for art.