A Return to Classicism

16 Aug

Correlations between art and politics have been repeatedly shown and this is clearly apparent among a selection of this year’s graduates that have returned to classical forms, responding to economical situations in Greece particularly.  Perhaps this will become known as Post Neo-Classicism or Anarchaic Art.

At Goldsmiths Hannah Lyons (BA Art Practice) has created a Doric column from expanding foam that bends slightly to lean against the wall, needing to be propped up, like Greece needs support from other Euro zone countries including Germany.  Titled I Tried (2012) it infers the artist’s attempt to create something and the failure to achieve the desired perfection, requiring the practice and refinement that can be seen in Greek sculpture across the Archaic period and into the Classical period, yet this is emblematic of contemporary attempts to stimulate the economy and develop businesses.  Meanwhile in BA Photography at Camberwell College of Art Maria Gorodeckaya includes a smashed plaster Doric column, reflecting a broken economy, in her installation Деструкция (Destruction in Russian), Gorodecaya’s column lays in fragments as it was broken, with three main sections that one could imagine being sliced violently with the swipe of a sword, like the conversion to Christianity defacing polytheistic Classical sculpture.

Деструкция (2012) by Maria Gorodeckaya

Lyons also exhibited Ironic Piece of Work by Female Artist (2012) in which she has successfully cast a plaster female figure, Aphrodite or Venus perhaps, without head and arms like a classical relic, but potentially suggestive of this being a cost cutting measure, imagining the construction of a temple, from which it might have originated, as a public building project inevitably running over budget.  The irony here seems to lie in a female artist creating a female figure that is presented as a purely sexual object, devoid of any identifying features and with just a loose drape of a skirt for modesty, seemingly about to drop at any moment.  Furthermore this pure white figure is contrasted against dark arches painted on the surrounding walls, highlighting a possible reference to the abrasive cleaning carried out on sculptures from the Parthenon at the British Museum to make them stand out, and by turning the otherwise unused space of the lift lobby into that of a formal museum gallery she ostensibly lowers the latter to the level of importance of the lobby, a transient space one doesn’t really want to spend much time in.

Ironic Piece of Work by Female Artist (2012) by Hannah Lyons

Won Woo Lee‘s F.A.S.W. (First Abstract Sculpture in the World) (2012) project at the Royal College of Art (MA Sculpture) includes an amalgamated collection of fragments of plaster bust, arranged into a somewhat pot-like form, with just the occasional facial feature visibly emerging from the surface slightly, adding texture and some light shadowing in addition to the darkness seen inside the object.  Whilst this, like Gorodecaya’s work, is suggestive of uprising, it also speaks of the desire for perfection sought by Archaic sculptors and realised by their Classical successors, like Lyons’ I Tried.  Adjacent to this visitors are occasionally startled by Always Something Behind the Truth (2012), an adjacent table which suddenly shakes like someone is panning soil to find remains or gold on an archaeological dig, further accelerating the physical erosion of further facial fragments on top of it, as measures such as quantitative easing could potentially accelerate recession.

Paper by Alex Ball (2012)

Slade MA graduate Alex Ball created the outline of a beheaded Kore, a sculpture of a female figure, in Paper (2012), from a large sheet of stiff paper, folded and crumpled up to create the figure’s drapery, reflecting the fragility and emptiness of these times, or perhaps the figure is simply elsewhere, unrobed, and we are presented her garment, suspended in animation, frozen in time.  Similarly Meekyoung Shin‘s work, Kuros Series, exhibited at Haunch of Venison in 2011 brought together a collection of Greek figurative sculpture in a single room, only if they had been buried in antiquity, as is how many such works survive today, they would have surely washed away, because Shin’s works are made of soap.  Both Shin and Ball’s choice of ephemeral materials critiques both the preciousness and value of works of art, as well as their longevity and ability to become long-term museum objects.

Apocalypse in fragments (After AD 1511) No. 6 (2012) by Jolanta Rejs, 129 cm x 95 cm, woodcut/monotype/pencil on reverse

Jolanta Rejs‘ woodcut prints in the Royal Academy Schools Show include what could be a Trojan horse in Apocalypse in fragments (After AD 1511) No. 6 (2012), depicted in a grid form that seems it should be the cartoon design for part of a great tapestry depicting a mythical scene, the texture of the ink bringing to mind the mesh of a silkscreen.  These are curiously printed on transparent or tracing paper, surely similarly making them a conservator’s nightmare, with a limited life span.  Whilst the content of John Robertson‘s paintings, also in the Royal Academy Schools Show, slightly slips away from the theme of classicism, they are likewise on a transparent surface (polythene that has a similar appearance to transparency paper), wrapped around stretchers so as to reveal their inner structure.  These works reflect a desire for political transparency within the economy, banks and media.  Furthermore Robertson’s Caesura (/) seems to hint at deletion or erasure (of debt perhaps) and to reference Lucio Fontana‘s slashed canvases, whilst relating with his other works tessellating letters, including one which seems to either go ON and ON, repeating history without changing it, or to repeatedly say NO in protest, perhaps against changes to work conditions.

Plinth (2012) by Luke Nairn

As already discussed of Lyons’ Ironic Piece of Work by Female Artist (2012), some students also focus on the museum display of classical sculpture.  Luke Nairn created a temporary bodged plinth or platform for a Romanic plaster bust at Camberwell (BA Sculpture), recycling found timber.  This results in a sprawling many-limbed figure that leans against and clings to any surface it is able to.  This is like a three-dimensional rendering of a sketch of a stick man, akin to Will Alsop’s scribble on Goldsmiths’ Ben Pimlott Building.  Nairn’s structure is bound with variously coloured tapes, ropes and fixings, whilst the surface the sculpture sits on is actually a folded over cardboard box, propping the piece up like you might use a book to adjust the level of a projector.  This reflects the make do and mend attitude of these austere times, reminiscent of the 1940s, and the everyday makeshift adjustments captured in Richard Wentworth‘s photographs.  Meanwhile in Luey GravesPainted Wooden Structure (2012) at the Royal Academy Schools, a relic figure appears trapped in a glass case like Sacagawea in Night at the Museum, desperate to get out into the world.

In Conversation (2012) by Julia Parkinson

Finally we might extend this collection to include Julia Parkinson’s sculptural installation in BA Sculpture at Camberwell, to reflect that today’s art graduates are looking to other ancient civilizations, perhaps in search of a less divided, unsettled or simpler way of life.  Parkinson’s In Conversation (2012) resembles either the space between the Aztec temples of Tenochtitlan, or part of one temple or an Egyptian pyramid inverted, partially covered by a sandstorm and rusting away as nature slowly reclaims man’s forgotten shrines.  Meanwhile it could also be a stadium for watching sport such as boxing or wrestling in at Mount Olympus, with stepped seating like an amphitheatre but in a square, fully surrounding format.


One Response to “A Return to Classicism”


  1. Frieze London 2012 Takes A Look Outside « Art Critiqued - October 14, 2012

    […] This is the opposite action to Meekyoung Shin’s work, previously discussed in the articles A Return to Classicism and All That Glitters Isn’t Necessarily Gold.  Where Shin made sculptures out of ephemeral soap, […]

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