Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eleanor Antin's Classical Frieze at LACMA

"Pompeii, especially, with its grand murals and flourishing gardens haunted by the dark shadow of Vesuvius, has always suggested uncomfortable parallels with our contemporary world, especially here in Southern California, where the sunlit life also turns out to have dark shadows in which failure and death lurk at the edge of consciousness. Now, in these times, we have even closer parallels with those ancient, beautiful, affluent people living the good life on the verge of annihilation."
—Eleanor Antin on Classical Frieze



Eleanor Antin
The Artist's Studio from "The Last
Days of Pompeii," 2001 (detail)
chromogenic print
46 5/6 x 58 5/8 inches


Eleanor Antin
The Tree from "The Last
Days of Pompei," 2001
chromogenic print
60 x 48 inches

Eleanor Antin's film and photo work, Classical Frieze, re-imagines Pompeii and the classical Roman world as if seen through the eyes of a contemporary filmmaker paying homage to the sword and sandal film epics of the 1950's which are then viewed through a scrim of French neoclassical painting from the 1800's. Eleanor Antin's work was chosen to illuminate a contemporary viewpoint or perhaps fantasy of the Roman world and is featured alongside LACMA'S current exhibition Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples.

Art21 on PBS describes Eleanor as "a cultural chameleon, masquerading in theatrical or stage roles to expose her many selves." Eleanor has a long and influential record as a visual and performance artist, as well as a filmmaker and photographer. Eleanor Antin "delves into history—whether of ancient Rome, the Crimean War, the salons of nineteenth-century Europe, or her own Jewish heritage and Yiddish culture—as a way to explore the present. "

I find Eleanor's Classical Frieze to be lightly provocative and very humorous. At the same time, the work which is ravishing in its color reminds me of the rich chroma in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. In that film and Antin's work, as Eleanor suggests," the sunlit life also turns out to have dark shadows in which failure and death lurk at the edge of consciousness" Antin sees that "Pompeii, especially, with its grand murals and flourishing gardens haunted by the dark shadow of Vesuvius, has always suggested uncomfortable parallels with our contemporary world, especially here in Southern California, ... Now, in these times, we have even closer parallels with those ancient, beautiful, affluent people living the good life on the verge of annihilation."

"Pompeii and the Roman Villa illustrates how the Trojan War and the death and wandering of the great Greek heroes were the moral and aesthetic tropes of Roman culture. Whereas for us, the romance of the Roman Empire, with its deliciously decadent affluence and military power, lies deep in modern Western consciousness. The great 19th-century colonial powers that preceded us saw themselves as the new Rome, bringing civilization to primitive peoples, not unlike the way we see ourselves today. At the same time, we are uneasy and haunted by the great empire that owned but then lost the world."


Art:21 | Eleanor Antin | Inventing Histories

May 14, 2009–October 4, 2009 | LACMA - Art of the Americas Building

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