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The odyssey of the Ancient references: When contemporary artists are inspired by Homeric and Ovidian poem


Tiphaine-Annabelle Besnard. University of Pau et des Pays de l’Adour. France


The odyssey of the Ancient references: When contemporary artists are inspired by Homeric and Ovidian poems

Tiphaine-Annabelle Besnard. University of Pau et des Pays de l’Adour. France.

Among the periods of history that nourish many fantasies and contribute to the diffusion of a whole collective psyche, Greco-Latin Antiquity plays a leading role. For instance, artists have used it during the Renaissance, the Neoclassicism, or the Return to order. Contemporary artists enjoy refering to Antiquity in their paintings, sculptures, or photographs as well. The classical literature which has reached us inspires them. Homeric poems are used by many artists particularly the events of the Trojan War in the Iliad. The same goes for Ovid and his Metamorphoses.

For example, in 2001, the italian transavanguardia artist Mimmo Paladino produced a lot of figurative paintings to illustrate Iliad’s and Odyssey’s poems for Diane de Selliers’s Editions. Eleanor Antin, also known for her feminist art since the 1970’, took an interest in Helen of Troy in a set of photographs called Helen’s Odyssey in 2007. The figure of the Laocoon is not overlooked either. The 30 BC-marble-group[1], which represents the death of the Trojan priest and his sons, has been reused by many sculptors such as Kris Martin (Mandi VIII, 2006) or Davide Quayola (Laocoon group, 2016). The Metamorphoses of Ovid resonate in the productions of Ian Hamilton Finley (when he uses the myth of Appolo and Daphne in Little Sparta, 1983), or Pierre & Gilles (with Narcisse [Matthieu Charneau], 2012). Moreover, Christian Lemmerz is nicknamed ‘the contemporary Ovide’ because of his Adam-Kadmon (1998).

These few examples show the diversity of the revival of classical literature in contemporary art. All these artists like many others – that we will study – bring these myths up to date. Then, it seems interesting to understand how they apply their view on literay works. The aim of this presentation is to observe how they adapt Homeric and Ovidian poems to our contemporary world and how they appropriate and modify them through the relationship between text and image. Furthermore, we will study all the stylistic categories used by the artists in their work (ironic, tragic, didactic, playful or serious). The goal is to demonstrate whether the call to literature serves as a means of promoting specific intentions. Are the artists seeking to convey, denounce, or claim something ? Finally, we will show that Ancient references undertake a long journey, a real odyssey, both in time (from Antiquity to the present day), and space (from Greece to the United States and even through Asia). In a nutshell, this presentation will consider the various ways of taking up Ancient literature in contemporary art since 1980.

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[1] Agesandros, Athanodoros, Polydoros of Rhodes, Laocoon, 40-30 BC, marble, 242x160 cm, Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican (inv. 1059).

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