An ocean-spanning underwater sculpture garden 11 years in the making set down roots at the 57th Venice Biennale this month, and it isn't by Damien Hirst—it's eco artist Jason deCaires Taylor's latest surreal sunken statues.
Just a five-minute walk away from deCaires Taylor's installation at the Official National Pavilion of Grenada, however, the richest artist alive's headline-generating Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable includes sculptures designed to look like they've been moldering in the wreckage of the Greek ship Apistos, which sunk in the 2nd century A.D. According to a release from Taylor, a side-effect Hirst's new work is a line of inquiry about whether Hirst appropriated his underwater sculpture aesthetic. Taylor released an official statement last night, reading:
"Over the past 11 years working underwater I have always hoped my work was about giving something back, creating new life and providing glimpses into a fragile imperilled [sic] world. After viewing Hirst's latest exhibition it seems I have certainly created an art genre that has been responded to, but his marine facsimiles are very different in context from my living installations. If people really want to see 'unbelievable treasures' they should look below the surface of our seas at the real live wonders of the blue world—nature does not lie."
Whether or not deCaires Taylor "created" the genre of underwater sculpture is also contentious. In 1954 Italian artist Guido Galletti sunk a bronze sculpture called Christ of the Abyss into the Mediterranean Sea near Genoa, Italy. A key difference in their practices is that deCaires Taylor creates his sculpture gardens with the express purpose of seeding artificial reefs in areas of the ocean particularly affected by climate change, pollution, and overfishing. In 2003, three years before deCaires Taylor began sinking his sculptures into the ocean surrounding Grenada, the sculpture was removed from the ocean and restored. However, the continuing comparison between Galletti, Taylor, and now, Hirst, embodies the slippery nature of determining ownership over ideas in the art world.
Taylor's work in Venice is an expansion of his Museo Atlantico project, described as, "the first underwater contemporary art museum in Europe and the Atlantic Ocean." He's also showing a film based on sculptures sunk in the ocean of Lanzatore, which you can see alongside his new work below.
See more of Jason deCaires Taylor's work on his website.