Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition

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Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition is an art project curated by Nadim Samman for Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy, taking place on a remote, protected island in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Costa Rica. Works by forty artists were placed inside a chest and then buried in a secret location on Cocos Island, the place whose pirate history inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.


Isla del Coco (Cocos Island) is the historical source of many foundational legends relating to buried treasure. The best known of the treasure legends tied to the island is that of the Treasure of Lima: In 1820, with the army of José de San Martín approaching Lima, Viceroy José de la Serna entrusted the treasure from the city to British trader Captain William Thompson for safekeeping until the Spaniards could secure the country. Instead of waiting in the harbour as they were instructed, Thompson and his crew killed the Viceroy’s men and sailed to Cocos, where they buried the treasure. Shortly afterwards, they were apprehended by a Spanish warship. Thompson and his first mate said they would show the Spaniards where they had hidden the treasure in return for their lives, but after landing on Cocos they escaped into the forest. A large number of attempts have been made to find the treasure, but none has succeeded.

The project[edit]

The art project consists of a vacuum sealed container containing artworks by forty artists, buried at a secret location. The contents of the container include works on paper, sculpture, vinyl LPs, digital video and audio files. The container is a truncated tetrahedron made of stainless steel that opens to reveal a second spherical container made of glass. Within this vacuum-sealed sphere there are a series of aluminium boxes housing the artworks.

Artists represented in the project include Marina Abramovic, Doug Aitken, Darren Almond, Angela Bulloch, Los Carpinteros, Phil Collins, Constant Dullaart, Olafur Eliasson, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Pierre Huyghe, Sharon Lockhart, Carsten Nicolai, Raymond Pettibon, Lari Pittman, Jon Rafman, Matthew Ritchie, Ed Ruscha, Chicks on Speed, Ryan Trecartin, Chris Watson, and Lawrence Weiner.

The container was buried on Cocos Island in May, 2014, by an expedition led by art collector and patron Francesca von Habsburg.

The GPS coordinates of the exhibition location were given to the Dutch artist Constant Dullaart, who worked with a cryptographer to encode them. The resulting string of code was then made physical, as a 3D printed steel cylinder. This physical ‘map’ will be sold at auction[when?], encased within a second edition of the treasure chest, with proceeds donated to the marine protection of Cocos Island under the auspices of the Area de Conservation Marina Isla Del Coco.

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