AUSTIN — It’s hard to imagine a more iconic sculpture associated with ancient Rome than the Capitoline Wolf. Standing roughly 30 inches tall, the original bronze depicts the founding of Rome: a she-wolf with the mythical twins, Romulus and Remus. While the subject is an enduring and popular motif in the Western world, that particular she-wolf has practically become synonymous with Rome’s origin story. Copies of the Capitoline Wolf, her head turned to her left, the twins under her just so, can be found in museums and institutions around the world.
It’s this historical cachet — as well as the material life of the Capitoline Wolf — that sculptor Lily Cox-Richard explores in Lily Cox-Richard: She-Wolf + Lower Figs. currently on view in the Contemporary Project space at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. In addition to displaying several new works created expressly for this exhibition, including a Capitoline-inspired she-wolf, it showcases how plaster casts of classical sculptures have distinct historical legacies. Specifically, Cox-Richard uses casts from the Battle Collection, held by the Blanton Museum of Art, to explore how copies of original classical sculptures take on their own material lives, separate from those of the originals. More than anything else, Lily Cox-Richard: She-Wolf + Lower Figs. questions — and successfully subverts — a long-held association between the aesthetic qualities of classical sculptures with physical whiteness.
Countless ancient Greek and Roman marble sculptures — statues, reliefs, and even sarcophagi — were originally painted in a plethora of colors that wore away over time. Art historians, particularly those in the 18th century, took the white marbles at face value (as it were) and the association between whiteness, aesthetics, and antiquity was quickly canonized in Western art. “To many, the pristine whiteness of marble statues is the expectation and thus the classical ideal,” Sarah Bond, professor of history and classics at the University of Iowa, argues in Hyperallergic. “But the equation of white marble with beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe.”
The assumed whiteness of sculpture in antiquity is slowly and surely being challenged. Where recent exhibitions, such as the traveling The Gods In Color, have worked to restore or reimagine color in classical sculpture, Lily Cox-Richard: She-Wolf + Lower Figs. taps into an audience willing to consider what color can connote.
“She-Wolf” (2019) is made of scagliola — an artificial marble used in ancient Rome — cast from 3D scans of the bronze original at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Unlike the polychrome of ancient Rome, the exhibition placard explains, it is impossible for these hues to fade. The bright colors of “She-Wolf” neatly juxtapose with the vibrant colors that peek out of the seven concrete slabs that comprise “Ramp” (2019). As the twins were actually a 15th-century addition to the Capitoline sculpture, Cox-Richard has opted to remove them, thus reminding audiences that what history considers “a sculpture from antiquity” is fluid.
Beginning in the 16th century, art academies in Europe used full-scale replicas of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to teach technical and anatomical drawing. By the 19th and 20th centuries, collections of plaster-cast replicas had made their way into American museums and universities, where they served as stand-ins for European enlightenment.
Between 1894 and 1923, William J. Battle, of UT Austin’s Classics Department, purchased 70 plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. (One of those casts, a 19th-century reproduction of “Apollo Belvedere,” was recently featured in the Blanton Museum of Art’s exhibition Copies, Fakes, and Reproductions.) For decades, these casts (now known as the Battle Collection) were used as teaching tools, thus mediating how audiences understood ancient Greek and Roman art and, especially, how students were introduced to the aesthetic and cultural standards of taste that the collection implied.
“Figs.” (2019) offers a new interpretation of two Battle Collection casts. Cox-Richard draped both in differently colored tulle, suggesting the lost polychroming of the original sculptures. (It’s significant to note that the casts were only ever cast in white plaster, thus contributing to the canon of whiteness.) The draped casts are turned so that audiences can clearly see the thin beams inside the hollow pieces, exposing a sense of fragility that isn’t often paired with the original marbles. By combining the casts with moving pallets, “Figs.” connotes mobility, emphasizing that copies and casts of ancient sculptures have long been in circulation.
With only five pieces, Lily Cox-Richard: She-Wolf + Lower Figs. is a tightly focused exhibition. (There are additional plaster casts and commentaries on view in a different part of the Blanton Museum of Art.) Cox-Richard’s work reminds audiences that all objects have complex life histories and are made, unmade, and remade throughout history.
Lily Cox-Richard: She-Wolf + Lower Figs. continues at the Blanton Museum of Art (200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Austin, Texas) through December 29. The exhibition was curated by Claire Howard, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Some museums are opting for new language to describe the preserved individuals in their collections who were once living humans.
Presented by Northwestern’s Block Museum and McCormick School of Engineering, this new exhibition seeks empathy at the boundaries of life. On view in Evanston, Illinois.
Located in Des Moines, Iowa, this residency for emerging and established artists includes studio and living space, a $1,000 monthly stipend, and more.
As art history buffs on the app have pointed out, both movements attribute meaning to the meaningless.
Multiple posts about the film have been taken down on Twitter, many of them following the government’s removal requests.
This week, blonde hair supremacy, Salman Rushdie’s new novel, and why do boutique shops all look the same?
Fayneese Miller is under fire after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
Fully-funded teaching assistantships are standard for MFA students at the top-ranked, flagship research university in the state of New York.
Hundreds of visitors were evacuated from the Incan site over the weekend.
The artist’s works resonate in West Texas, where the story of dehumanized and exploited migrant laborers is tangible and ever-present.
A posthumous show of Price’s work is curated by James Hart of Phil Space, the self-proclaimed “gallerist of death.”
She has raised generations of Bay Area artists and changed the local landscape with her public artworks, colleagues tell Hyperallergic.