After weeks of anticipation since the closing of the previous exhibit, the Martin Museum of Arts finally opened its doors Tuesday with a new exhibit. Upon entering the door, viewers are met with stunning engravings and large reconstructions of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, all a part of the free exhibit, “The Neoclassical Gaze: Myth and Reality of Ancient Sculpture.”
Dr. Sean DeLouche is a lecturer of art and art history, specializing in 18th and 19th century art. He was the curator of the exhibit, along with Dr. Nathan Elkins who teaches Greek and Roman art and archaeology.
“The two of us collaborated on the building of this exhibition,” DeLouche said. “We approached the exhibition from our two perspectives, his from the Greek and Roman side, mine from 18th and 19th century, what’s called the era of neoclassicism.”
Neoclassicism is the revival of ancient art that occurred in the middle of the 18th century due to the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, DeLouche said.
“This spurred an incredible enthusiasm for the ancient world again and art began to simulate the styles of these ancient works of art that they were finding,” DeLouche said.
However, it was not simply the art of the 18th century that began reflecting the ancient world. Fashion, furniture and architecture also began to shift in a similar way, DeLouche said.
“There is also a social and political dimension, as well,” DeLouche said. “This is the age of revolution. The American Revolution is just around the corner, and the French Revolution. The whole 19th century becomes known as the ‘age of revolution.’”
One of the central themes of neoclassicism that is clearly reflected in the exhibit is the emphasis on purity and purification.
“It is interested in purifying art again back to those simple forms from the ancient world again,” DeLouche said. “The political side of it wants to purify the social and political realms, as well.”
The exhibit features information about Johann Winckelmann, who is considered by many to be the father of art history, having written one of the first identifiable modern works of art history in the 18th century, DeLouche said. He fits into the context of exhibit as the first to examine historical art, particularly Greek and Roman statues, beyond its aesthetics and dissect social and political statements proposed by works of art.
The specific pieces in the exhibit are from the Augusteum, published between 1804 and 1811, a collection of over 100 engravings that reproduce statues in the Dresden Royal Collection in Dresden, Germany, collected by Augustus II, DeLouche said. The prints were made to share the statues with a larger audience than would ever see the collection in person.
Unfortunately, the collection of statues was bombed during World War II, so many of the statues are reconstructions of the originals, including the actual museum.
The exhibit, which is the first to feature works of the Augusteum prints, came about by rather serendipitous means, DeLouche said.
“The director of the museum, Alison Chew, was cleaning up the museum and found, on the top shelf, 90-odd engravings,” DeLouche said. “She came down the hall to me and Nathan and asked us to identify. We discovered they were from the Augusteum.”
DeLouche regularly utilizes the Martin Museum of Art’s collection in his classes to give his student firsthand experience with the art they learn about in the classroom.
“I was using Augusteum prints in my classes regularly,” DeLouche said. “So, Nathan and I were talking and decided to collaborate together on this exhibition that we could both use in our classes.”
Since its opening two days ago, classes have already been taking advantage of the unique exhibit. Plano sophomore Claire Gustafson is a studio art major with a concentration in print making, and her class visited the exhibit to practice their figure drawing.
“We were each required to pick one and I chose the torso that you see when you first come into the Martin Museum,” Gustafson said. “It’s missing the arms, legs and head.
But it’s interesting because the torso is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s style.”
More than simply for viewing, Gustafson said the exhibit will be a fantastic resource for the art students who need figures to practice drawing.
The exhibit will be open through March 8.
“This exhibition unpacks the myths and realities of looking at these ancient works of art,” DeLouche said. “It’s really exciting.”