Featuring a dynamic selection of artworks by Barry X Ball, Damien Hirst, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Claudio Parmiggiani, this group exhibition reveals how each of these artists integrate themes and imagery from Classical art into a contemporary context. Through varied references to antique sculpture, these four masters address issues pertinent to today’s cultural and political discussions.
Given his passionate appreciation for the human body, it is no surprise that Robert Mapplethorpe was attracted to Classical sculpture—especially works by the Italian Renaissance master, Michelangelo. But whereas Mapplethorpe’s iconic photographs of nude models accentuate the hard musculature of their physiques, his less well-known photographs of marble and bronze sculptures bring a sense of tenderness and suppleness to what we know to be hard cold materials. This is certainly the case in his artfully framed and dramatically lit late-career photographs of two Classical marbles: a reclining nude, Sleeping Cupid, 1989, and sparse still life composition, Bust and Skull, 1987.
Likewise inspired by Classical themes, Barry X Ball has taken a seventeenth century bust by Baroque Flemish sculptor Giusto Le Court as the model for his own striated black Italian marble sculpture, Envy, 2008—2016. This and other works in the artist’s Masterpieces series (2008—2016) bring modern technology to traditional artistic materials in order to create artworks that challenge traditional notions of authorship, skill, and seriality. Of course, Ball’s practice of reproducing centuries-old sculptures also harkens back to Roman copies of Greek antiquities.
Among the inspirations for his larger-than-life bronze statue, Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain, 2006, Damien Hirst has cited antique woodcuts and etchings as well as Tim Burton’s 1990 film, Edward Scissorhands. In Hirst’s depiction of Bartholomew (a Christian martyr who was skinned alive), the saint carries his own skin folded over one arm like an overcoat and a pair of large shears in the opposite hand. As the patron saint of doctors and surgeons, descriptions of the saint wereas often used by medics studying the human physique—a notion Hirst uses to accentuate the fact that a strict demarcation between art, science and religion is a relatively recent phenomena.
Finally, Claudio Parmiggiani has expressed a sentiment that is at the very heart of this exhibition: “Timeless time that is the time of art.” Since the 1970’s, Parmiggiani’s own work has frequently featured plaster casts of Classical sculptures that he has stained with pigment, smoke, or otherwise adorned with highly symbolic references. The untitled sculpture from 1975 included in this exhibition—a white plaster cast of a Classical visage that the artist has painted with colorful pigments—playfully updates old-fashioned ideals of art and beauty.
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