2nd March – 28th April 2018
After months of hard work curating and marketing by the King’s Classics Department and the Musee D’Art Classique de Mougins, The Classical Now exhibition proudly showcases the creations of professional artists, students and staff from King’s and The Courtauld Institute of Art, demonstrating classical civilisation’s continued captivation of the cultural imagination. As a branch of the wider initiative Modern Classicisms, Michael Squire (lecturer in Classical Art at King’s) is timely in his spearheading of this project; the cliché that classics is an old-fashioned subject is refreshingly refuted – through poetry, sculpture, paintings and films, we are invited to see that the classical is indeed happening ‘now.’
Aptly situated at both the Bush House Arcade and the Indigo Rooms of Somerset House, the artwork displayed in the former location is convenient escapism if your curiosity so entices you to have a post-lecture browse. Alongside professional creations such as Hurst’s shining severed head of Medusa, all walls are graced with student talent; the café sports Svitlana Biedarieva’s (C.I postgraduate) Londonomachy, a worthy receiver of joint third prize in the Modern Classicisms art competition.
In asking whether the classical is something ‘beautiful’ or ‘oppressive’, the exhibition showed a healthy student response to such a debate. Particularly eye-catching is Charlotte Ellery’s (KCL Undergraduate) First Glance, capturing with smart dashes of paint a solemn ancient glance – a winning portrayal indeed.
The goddess of love proves a popular muse; Connie Bloomfield’s (KCL postgraduate) Venus, Reconstructed, awarded joint third prize, brightens the Union Shop with a thoughtful Francophile touch. Sweet serenades are also explored, as Rioghnach Sachs (KCL Postgraduate) writes The Lesbian Hymns I & II: The Hymn of Iphis (awarded second prize) and the Hymn to Aphrodite, a timeless ‘modern classicism’ in the music world. With such talent, the only flaw is that just ten out of twenty-four entries are displayed – a small screen featuring the remainder hardly does the efforts justice. Nevertheless, the exhibition is of high quality and seamlessly matches the classical beauty of Bush House itself
The Indigo Rooms of Somerset House literally and figuratively take the artworks ‘underground’. Greeted at first by pop-art interpretations of ancient ‘place’, a venture into the ‘myth’ room involves Wallinger’s re-imagining of Prometheus in an electric chair uttering lines from the Tempest on a continuous loop, rounded off by a hauntingly high-pitched scream. Nightmarishness aside, this display cleverly juxtaposes ancient art with modern – a Greek bronze cast of Apollo’s iconic head is a handsome feature; Le Brun’s The Coast of Africa portrays Dido’s Carthage as a shimmering vision from the sea in flaming orange, convincingly foreshadowing her fatal desire for Aeneas.
Creative film lovers will not be left underwhelmed as Kelly’s surreal spin on Swinburne’s Pasiphae examines the unlikely conception of the Minotaur through the lens of sexual desire. Jarman and Humfress’ short film Sebastiane captures with camp playfulness the homoerotic in Greek art and Apollo’s association with male beauty. The cinematic presence continues in the ‘pose’ room, alongside physical statues exploring classical posture, with Feldman’s colourful Venus an intelligent reminder that the Romans may have painted their statues now faded with time.
A favourite of mine was Perry’s humble piece of pottery, A Classical Compromise. Contrasted with its Greek inspiration, the urn depicts figures from classical mythology blended with a Wedgewood eye for colour and detail, demonstrating significant technical skill on Perry’s part.
The Classical Now exhibition is informative, thoughtful and, ultimately, enjoyable. Generously free to enter, students, tourists and locals alike have nothing to lose from an immersion into the creative world of modern classicisms.