Galeri Manâ exhibition links contemporary art to classical

Galeri Manâ, located in the Tophane district of Istanbul, is hosting a group exhibition titled “Who shall deliver us from the Greeks and Romans?” that lasts until May 10.

Curated by Cristiana Perrella, the exhibition features many local and foreign artists including Lisa Anne Auerbach and Aleksandra Mir, steven Claydon, Gregory Crewdson, Asli CavusoGlu, Ozlem Gunyol and Mustafa Kunt, Matthew Monahan, Jonathan Monk, Adrian Paci, Pedro Reyes, Daniel silver and Francesco Vezzoliand.

The exhibition focuses on the ways the classical heritage interferes with or somehow seeps into contemporary artists’ works. Having quite an eclectic group of artists from different cultures and backgrounds, the show brings the classical touch to a more up-to-date exhibition setting. still, from the moment the audience enters the gallery, seeing the busts and sculptures, the very first impression is that the exhibition is about Greek and Roman art.

Only after a closer look will they realize that these are actually contemporary works of art that distort the forms of busts that are immediately connected to ancient eras. In that framework, both Monk’s “senza Titolo III,” which is a Jesmonite bust with a nose that was broken by Pier Paolo Calzolari, and silver’s three works, which are all marble faces of bearded men with faintly recognizable features, remind the audience of the effect of time while also pointing to the never-changing iconoclast of the classical heritage. This goes perfectly well with one of the show’s premises that the “classical legacy dies hard.”

Besides pointing to the legacy of the classical in art, curator Perrella also brings attention to the increasing interest of contemporary art in the classical while this classical culture is experiencing a loss of popularity in general. In the exhibition press release she explains this paradox as follows:

“It is no coincidence that the sudden resurfacing of Greek and Roman themes in contemporary art, though scattered in fragments, out of context, coincides with a gradual crisis of classical culture — one of the most enduring myths of occidental art history — as it becomes more marginal on the global scene and its claims to universal pertinence fall from grace.

The gaps of meaning that converge today around the idea of the classical as a Eurocentric canon have paradoxically multiplied its possibilities of interpretation, giving rise to unexpected interpretations of what was already an incredibly rich, complex and evocative repertoire of forms, narrations and ideas.”

The way Perrella contextualizes the artists’ interest in the classical heritage in its relation to contemporary times becomes a central issue in most works in the exhibition.

On the first floor of the gallery, Mexican artist Reyes’s drawings and collages with colored pencil on printed paper, “Los Mutantes,” presents a striking juxtaposition of mythical creatures with contemporary popular icons, superheroes and characters.

Consisting of 170 frames, “Los Mutantes” can be seen as a showcase of art history in a subjectively organized manner. The subjectivity in this work catalyzes new meanings and associations for the audience, further allowing them to see vague and obvious connections between the figures throughout history.

Gunyol and Kunt’s “The Myth” is a perfect example of the classical and contemporary. On the second floor of the gallery, with their vase which appears to be a copy of a Greek vase held by the Louvre, Gunyol and Kunt welcome the audience with a relatively more contemporary reference. The artists replace the figures decorating the vase, which originally tells the mythical story of Europa, with Guy Fawkes masks, which have become one the prominent symbols of protest all around the world. With this obvious reference, the bull, which is left as the only central figure since the artist has taken Europa out of picture, can be interpreted with its association to the Occupy Wall street movement, with the bronze bull being the symbol of the financial market.

Full of different disciplines from drawings to videos, “Who shall deliver us from the Greeks and Romans?” can be seen as a tribute to the classical heritage, while also positioning contemporary art practices as fields to further question the legacy of the past in relation to today’s zeitgeist. Each and every work from the exhibition speaks to this issue as well as to each other.

The artists’ individual interpretations of the antique artworks complete each other in terms of the variety of today’s artistic practices and forms. All these works coming together in the physical space of Galeri Manâ, which is a converted wheat mill dating back to the 19th century, also frames the whole concept in a more local way in which past iconography intermingles with the present.