1. The Severed Head of Medusa, 2013, Damien Hirst, gold and silver.

Pop go the Classics!

The heritage of Ancient Greece and Rome has had a indelible influence on the medieval and modern periods, which have absorbed, preserved, assimilated and transformed this Classical influence and its icons. Now, the contemporary world and popular culture have appropriated Greek and Roman models giving birth to new heroes and fresh forms of art in a globalised context.

Bringing together Classical artefacts and cutting-edge 21st-century art, Age of Classics: Antiquity in Pop Culture examines our strong relationship to the Graeco-Roman world in different aspects of our daily lives: from literature and the visual arts to comicbooks and the cinema.

Some of questions posed are: how does Europe reinterpret its heritage? What is it that connects Greece, Rome and the United States of America? How and why does Asia, too, explore Western history in its cultural productions? And in which ways has antiquity been perpetuated in the face of today's evolving society?


2. Antiquity (Girls of Leucippus), 2010–2012, Jeff Koons, oil on canvas.

Western Europe, the cradle of Classical culture, is often seen as a Golden Age, the most illustrious period in our history. The Classics are taught and studied, but also reinterpreted and reconfigured in film, art, music and literature.

Our Graeco-Roman heritage is omnipresent and inspires many contemporary artists who use it to reflect their own very current concerns, such as ecology, overconsumption, gender and critiques of certain lifestyles. Ancient myths and symbols, common to all Europeans, are a rich and endless source of inspiration for exploring the major political, economic and social issues of our time.


3. The Judgement of Paris (after Rubens) – Light Helen, 2007, Eleanor Antin, photograph, from her Helen's Odyssey series.

The United States of America has long drawn on ancient models to build its national identity. European settlers found in Graeco-Roman culture powerful symbols to express the grandeur of their young republican new founding myths. Explicit references to Rome and Athens appear in the American Constitution, in the architecture of major public monuments, and Latin is used in one of the country's mottoes: E pluribus unum (Out of many, one). Commercial brands also draw freely on Classical motifs: for example, Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory lends her name to a world-famous sports brand. Pop culture and cinema has also taken mythological figures and given them a contemporary twist. Superman, the universal comicbook and screen hero, is like a modern Hercules, a fearless champion with exceptional powers who also has human flaws.

Asia's interest in Classical culture is growing. The two continents were in contact very early on, during Alexander the Great's conquest of India, but Asian countries have their own powerful mythologies, gods and heroes which reappear in manga, video games and contemporary art.

In Age of Classics! work by top contemporary artists from the United States, France, the United Kingdom and China – including Jeff Koons, Eleanor Antin, Damien Hirst, Pierre et Gilles, Leo Caillard, Xu Zhen and Meekyoung Shin – is on show with Classical antiquities.

• Age of Classics! Antiquity in Pop Culture is on at Le Musée Saint Raymond in Toulouse (www.saintraymond.toulouse.fr) until 22 September 2019.

Lindsay Fulcher











 
 
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