While I was in Dallas last week for work, I visited the Nasher Sculpture Center. PJ and I had visited it a few years ago, and I’m not really all that much into sculpture, but I had time between meetings and was in the neighborhood, so I decided to stop in and see what’s on exhibit.
Most of the collection is the same as the last time we were there, but I very much enjoyed the special exhibit, the touring exhibit of Elliott Hundley’s The Bacchae. As the Nasher website describes,
Over the past decade, Hundley has developed a multifaceted, intricate art using paint, photographs, and organic and found materials ranging from bamboo, goat hooves, and pine cones to pins, magnifying lenses, and gold leaf. The mythic world of ancient Greek tragedy becomes vividly contemporary as Hundley reimagines Euripides’s last play, The Bacchae, in twelve works presented in one of the Nasher’s street-level galleries.
Here’s a picture I found online of my favorite work in this collection, Hundley’s Pentheus:
Wikipedia explains who Pentheus was in Greek mythology:
The king of Thebes, Cadmus, abdicated in favor of his grandson, Pentheus, due to his old age. Pentheus soon banned the worship of the god Dionysus, who was the son of his aunt Semele, and did not allow the women of Cadmeia to join in his rites.
An angered Dionysus caused Pentheus’ mother Agave and his aunts, Ino and Autonoë, along with all the other women of Thebes, to rush to Mount Cithaeron in a Bacchic frenzy. Because of this, Pentheus imprisoned Dionysus, but his chains fell off and the jail doors opened for him.
Dionysus then lured Pentheus out to spy on the Bacchic rites. The daughters of Cadmus saw him in a tree and thought him to be a wild animal. Pentheus was pulled down and torn limb from limb by them (as part of a ritual known as the sparagmos), causing them to be exiled from Thebes. Some say that his own mother tore off his head, and that she was the first to attack him, tearing his arm off.
Hundley’s mixed-media collage works in two ways. The background image, visible in the picture above, alludes to the Greek myth directly. The body in the foreground alludes to Pentheus’s mutilated corpse. The work also has a finer level, described here:
Hundley’s work is always marked by a dual intensity of labor. He begins by photographing people, costumed or made-up, performing actions and sometimes even restaging parts of the subject matter he is working though. These photographs then become raw material. The conceptual and physical effort spent in creating this material is what allows Hundley’s next layer of process to be so organic and free in its making. For this exhibition, the photographs are also enlarged and printed on rice paper to serve as the base for three large, wall-bound works. Studded with thousands of pins holding meticulously cut out images, words, and objects; the resolution of the photographs gives way to an optically dazzling and abstracted surface. Images, narrative and language fracture a linear reading of the past and show instead a quivering, shimmering, and ever changing image that allows us to marvel at the endless permutations of human culture. (Source)
The smaller images in Pentheus are of models, some of whom are nude, in various poses. (There may be other images as well, but the nude males are what stand out in my memory.)
It’s an amazing work of art, one that I could have stared at for hours. I’ve ordered the book that accompanies the exhibit — maybe I’ll have more to say about it once I read the book!