Classical beauty

‘When Viewing Ancient Beauty’ exhibition

By Victoria Khroundina | February 10, 2014


The Sismanoglio Megaro, Istanbul’s Greek Cultural Centre, is hosting a captivating photography exhibition of the American artist J. Joshua Garrick until March 9. Curated by the art historian Iris Kritikou and with the installations designed by Marios Voutsinas, the exhibition focuses on photographs that Garrick took of ancient sculptures and artefacts at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The photography series was exhibited at the museum last autumn, making Garrick the only American photographer to exhibit photos of artefacts at the museum itself in 124 years.

Garrick, who has a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University, took the photographs over many visits to the museum, which he says ‘holds the greatest treasures in the world’. Indeed, the museum has a collection of the nation’s most important archaeological finds, which includes Agamemnon’s gold mask, Cycladic figurines, Minoan frescoes and remarkable ceramics and statuary. Garrick is completely fascinated with Greece. ‘I have always had the desire to walk where Socrates and Pericles and Phidias walked,’ he says. On his very first trip there, he realised the aesthetic potential of what he could achieve with a camera and began photographing the country’s treasures, from the acropolises of Tiryns, Mykinis and Athens, to the artefacts and sculptures displayed in museums. 

‘I had never seen the colour blue as brilliant as the blue of the sky in Greece and I had never experienced the majesty of eagles flying over Mt. Parnassus in Delphi following a thunderstorm,’ remembers Garrick. The above photo is perhaps named after such a memory: it is entitled ‘Thunder Thrower’ and shows the arm of a statue of Zeus, dating from the High Classical period (450–400 BC).

‘I knew those statues and sculptures needed to be seen in a new way – outside of the ‘slide shows’ of dusty college classrooms – in order to be placed in a new context of appreciation,’ says Garrick. Rather than just capturing them in the style in which artefacts in museums are often portrayed, Garrick chooses a certain angle, highlights a specific aspect, or bathes them in shadow or light to bring out the detail and uncover the authenticity of the raw materials from which they are made. This is certainly true in the above image. Entitled ‘Sophocles Remembered’, it shows a close-up of a head sculpture from the Hellenistic period (323–31 BC) on which you can see every detail, every bit of wear and tear.

The titles of Garrick’s photos, as noted by Alexandra Christopoulou of the National Archaeological Museum, underline how important history is to Garrick’s art. He draws on important quotes from history, philosophy and drama, naming the images after certain momentous events. The above image, for instance, is called ‘Olympic fame’ and is a close-up of a marble statue (a copy from about 100 BC of an original from the High Classical period) of an athlete binding his hair, found in Delos, Cyclades.

The above shows Garrick’s take on the extraordinary 2nd-century BC bronze sculpture of the Horse and Jockey of Artemesium, found in the sea off Cape Artemesium, north Euboea, circa 140 BC.

‘My works are not meant to be political,’ says Garrick. ‘Rather, they show my desire to remind contemporary society of the artistic debt we owe to the ancient world. The Ancients managed to place an emphasis on thinking about and creating art – which equalled beauty – that seems to be lost to us today.’ The above photo, ‘Beauty that never fades’, taken of the bronze statue Marathon Boy, from the Hellenistic period, seems to be a testament to this.

The above image, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is of a marble statue of a sleeping Maenad, produced in Athens at the time of Emperor Hadrian (117–138 AD). Measuring 136cm in length, the statue presumably adorned a luxury residence.

A few more of my personal favourites: the above, ‘Medusa in Stone’, is a floor stone mosaic, probably from the Roman period, showing the head of Medusa with her winged brow and serpent locks.

‘Aphrodite’s smile’ brings us up close and personal with the goddess of love herself. Made from Parian marble, it is a Roman copy done in the 2nd century modelled on a Greek original from the 4th century. Her neck, head and left arm (which isn’t visible in Garrick’s photo) are restorations by Antonio Canova, an 18th-century Italian sculptor.

The photography series will next be displayed at the Greek Consulate in New York from April 10, 2014. In autumn, there will be an exhibition in Garrick’s hometown, Orlando.

The main image shows the marble bust of Antinous, dating from the period of Hadrian’s rule. All images courtesy of Sismanoglio Megaro.

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