Classical is a familiar word that has referred to both the great civilizations of Greece and Rome, landscapes from the 1850’s and themes such as order, balance, harmony, and ideal beauty throughout the centuries; but in the contemporary zeitgeist, this term has dramatically shifted its definition. So what is the new sense of this word?
The term classical, formerly defining canonized ideals of order and proportion and exemplified by works such as the marble sculptures of Michelangelo, is now like water running through our fingers.
The National Academy Museum exhibition: “Beyond the Classical: Imagining the Ideal Across Time”, offers a look at how the classical theme has evolved, at the Academy and beyond, over the last 200 years.
The nation’s oldest Academy, housing a public collection of over seven thousand works of American Art from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries and founded by students of the American Academy of Fine Arts, it occupies a mansion that was the former home of sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and Archer Milton Huntington, at Fifth Ave and Eighty-Ninth Street.
Born from some artists of yesterday and for the artists of today, the National Academy currently hosts a group show that unveils how artists over time have referenced and responded to classical themes throughout the world, with a touch of spirituality. Featuring works from the Academy’s permanent collection as well as artists such as Asher B. Durand, Edwin Blashfield, Judith Shea, and Stephen Antonakos, the show points to artists’ relationships with the weight of history and to how the past can inspire or burden artists’ productivity.
Other works by artists Anslem Kiefer, Robert Rauschenburg, Kiki smith, Ben Shahn, Cy Twombly, and many others, create a link between past and present, referencing ways in which the classical inspires artistic practices today.
Other highlights include a work from Robert Rauschenburg, containing a reproduction of the Renaissance painting by Veronese, The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, along with a Gilbert and George’s assemblage of Pompeian-red postcards. Walking into the Museum the viewer is confronted by a sculpture of a sleeping Faun by Edward Clark Potter. He had versions of it cast in plaster, bronze and concrete. Two of them were owned by Daniel Chester French, one of the most prolific and acclaimed American sculptors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
In the Rotunda, Kiki Smith’s The Singer, 2008, references the classical proportions of the body by enlarging the head only to reveal and emphasize another classical element, the ethos, or character of the figure and her stoic expression.
Walking up to the second floor, in the Donald Kenney Gallery, is Barry X Ball’s Purity completed just last year. It is a re-interpretation of the work by the Venetian rococo sculptor Antonio Corradini. Ball displays the same virtuosity as Corradini through his use of material, working with Mexican onyx as the Venetian master had done in marble and showing the delicate rendering of a thin veil covering a nude body underneath.
The oval gallery features work from Rona Pondick. Her recent works focusing on the notion of human hybrids – combinations of human features with animal or plant life, often including representations of her own head and hands. In her first work in the series, Dog (1998-2001), she combines a human head and hands with the body of a dog, creating a sphinx-like figure.
Nino Miglori, known for his work defining Italian post war photography, is featured on the fourth floor with his work Il Tuffatore (The Diver), from 1951. Other highlights include The Child in Me by Gehrad Demetez.
His piece, featuring a child with two heads, points to his use of child imagery as a vehicle to examine contemporary culture and its negative impact through the larger forces of war, religion, and politics.
The last gallery on the second floor displays a piece by Devorah Sperber called After the Mona Lisa 5 (2007), in which the image of the renowned masterwork is re-constructed from 408 spools of thread. At a glance, it appears to be a random arrangement of spools but after placing a clear acrylic sphere in front of the work, the thread spools shrink and are condensed into a recognizable image while also turning the image upside down. According to DevorahSperber.com, “This shift in perception functions is a dramatic mechanism to present the idea that there is no one truth or reality, emphasizing subjective reality vs. an absolute truth.”
What ties all of these works together is their connection to an idea of the classical, and the fact that they couldn’t exist without the reference that they are drawing. All the artists felt the need to bring ancient history back into their present using a variety of media approaches and artistic processes, incorporating their own personality and spin on ancient ideals.
Beyond the Classical: Imagining the Ideal Across Time
October 2, 2014 to January 11, 2015, 11 AM – 6 PM
1083 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128
Article by Kizuwanda Vialva