“I always say that I was born too late,” Owen Wilson drawled in Woody Allen’s 2011 movie Midnight in Paris. The film highlights how the pleasure of history has always been filled with melancholia, nostalgia, romanticism, and the search for truth. The weight of history lies heavy on contemporary art. This exhibition aims to look at how the bones, ruins, and remnants of history, in particular classicism and modernism, are being rethought—how artists are digging amongst the past for new aesthetics; pushing the future by reinventing the past.
We are in an era where the classical education of the past has become almost defunct. The need to rebel from the weight of ancient history has dissipated. In The Modernity of Ancient Sculpture, Elizabeth Prettejohn notes, “The study of modernism in the visual arts can be told as a sequence of repudiations, more or less violent, of the Greek ideal in general, and ancient sculpture in particular.” Though as she observes, “The very attacks suggest the continued potency of ancient sculpture.” Today the past is ripe for reinvention and rediscovery. As Prettejohn continues, “Just as modern art aspires to the condition of ‘antiquity’, in Cezanne’s phrase, ‘like the art in museums’—so must ancient art because ‘ephemeral, fugitive, contingent’ if it is not to petrify.”
The title of this online exhibition, taken from Evelyn Waugh’s novel referring to Edward Gibbon’s famous tome about the decay of the Roman Empire, aims to show how these references (like modern vanitas paintings) can also be seen to reflect the cultural, moral, and social upheaval of contemporary life.
This show brings together artists interacting with classical and modernist inspirations: Artists working with plaster, ceramics, oil, collage, gouache, photography, printing techniques, and found materials. Artists working with the fragmentary, the found, and the forgotten. Artists engaged with the legacy of the monumental. The result is artwork that interacts with the past but exists in a reality alongside it.