The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection Opens February 24
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The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection Opens February 24

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
International loan ehxibition explores how an ancient catastrophe has become a modern muse for generations of artists

For more information, please contact:
Caroline Guscott, 216-707-2261, cguscott [at] clevelandart [dot] org
Saeko Yamamoto, 216-707-6898, syamamoto [at] clevelandart [dot] org

CLEVELAND (February 19, 2013) –The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 destroyed, yet paradoxically preserved the ancient city of Pompeii, providing a vivid glimpse into the daily lives of ancient Romans. Since the rediscovery of the site in the 1700s, centuries of leading artists—from Piranesi, Ingres and Alma-Tadema to Duchamp, Rothko, Warhol and Gormley — have been inspired to re-imagine it in paintings, sculpture, photographs, performance and film. While exhibitions dedicated to the archaeology of Pompeii have been numerous, this is the first time this ancient city and cataclysmic event is explored through the lens of modern creators and thinkers. Featuring nearly 100 works, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection will be on view from February 24 through July 7, 2013.

Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, the title of the exhibition, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection, is inspired by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii, an incredibly popular 1834 novel that combined a Victorian love story with sensational subplots of pagan decadence, Christianity and volcanic eruption. The book was presented as archaeologically accurate and helped transform Pompeii into a place to stage fiction. It captivated generations of readers, prompted tourists to visit the site and inspired many works of art in a wide variety of media.

“Each generation creates a new Pompeii for themselves,” stated Jon Seydl, exhibition co-organizer and The Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos, Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture (1500-1800) at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “It’s an astonishingly rich subject for artists, who have returned over and over again to Pompeii, remaking it to suit the preoccupations of their own time.” Mixing chronology and media, the exhibition breaks down according to three broad themes. Decadence looks at why we consider Pompeii as a place of luxury, sex, violence and excess. Apocalypse explores Pompeii as the archetype of disaster—the cataclysm to which all others are compared—from the American Civil War and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to 9/11. And Resurrection considers how Pompeii has become a place to re-create and recast the ancient past.

The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection contains six galleries of remarkable works of art exploring these ideas from more than fifty public and private collections in Europe and the United States, including the Louvre, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Appearing only in Cleveland is a suite of ten large paintings by Mark Rothko, preliminary studies for the Seagram Building commission in the late 1950s. Rothko eventually withdrew from the project, and this is the first time these ten works have been exhibited in the same space. Also appearing in the Cleveland show is a 1991 installation called The Dog from Pompei by American artist, Allan McCollum, which brings together 16 replicas of perhaps the best-known of all the body casts from Pompeii, a startling work that has a powerful impact on the visitor.

“The scale of the disaster and the remarkable archaeological record have inspired some of the most interesting and important artists of the last three centuries,” stated Seydl. “All these artists used Pompeii to create entirely new stories that tell us much more about their own time than about antiquity.”

Highlights of The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection include:

Decadence:

After a Gladiator Fight during a Meal at Pompeii, 1880. Francesco Netti. Netti’s most famous work, this painting was displayed at the 1880 National Exposition in Turin and purchased by Queen Margarita of Italy. Though widely praised for its archeological accuracy, the painting presents an entirely fictional story of drunken, bloodthirsty banqueters, half-nude women, street violence and a corpse. After a Gladiator Fight During a Meal in Pompeii, 1880. Francesco Netti (Italian, 1832–1894). Oil on canvas; 115 x 208 cm. Museo di Capodimonte, Fototeca della Soprintendenza per il P.S.A.E. e per il Polo Museale della Città di Napoli.

Antiochus and Stratonice, c. 1838. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Struck by love for his father’s wife, Antiochus hovers near death. The father recognizes the boy’s lovesickness and offers his wife, Stratonice, in order to save his son’s life. Ingres places the narrative before wall paintings excavated in Herculaneum, underscoring the eroticism and emotional excess of the story, an actual historical event of around 294 B.C that actually took place in present-day Syria. Antiochus and Stratonice, c. 1838. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780—1867). Oil on fabric; 48.1 x 63.9cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1966.13

Apocalypse:

Pliny the Younger and His Mother at Misenum, 79 A.D., 1782. Angelica Kauffmann. Kauffmann was an internationally renowned female painter of the late 18th-century. The subject matter was inspired by Pliny the Younger’s early-second-century A.D. account of the eruption of Vesuvius, the only eyewitness account we have of the disaster, written on the request of the historian Tacitus. Though many artists depicted passages from Pliny’s letters, Kauffmann uniquely chose to show the author’s activities as the eruption began. Pliny the Younger and His Mother at Misenum, AD 79, 1782. Angelica Kauffmann (Swiss, 1741–1807). Oil on canvas; 103 x 127.5 cm. Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ, Museum purchase, Gift of Franklin H. Kissner y1969-89. Photo: Bruce M. White. Princeton University Art Museum / Art Resource, NY.

Mount Vesuvius, 1985. Andy Warhol. An Italian art dealer commissioned Warhol to create a series on Vesuvius. Warhol used an ordinary postcard sold to tourists for inspiration, cropping elements out of the original in order to focus on the exploding volcano. By using popular culture as source material, Warhol connects the series with his larger interest in the mass production of images. Mount Vesuvius, 1985. Andy Warhol (American, 1928—1987). Screenprint on linen, hand-colored with acrylic; 72.4 x 81.3cm. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled (Seagram Mural Sketch), 600-1000. In the midst of his commission for the Seagram Murals, Rothko traveled to the bay of Naples. As a result of his encounter with Pompeian wall paintings, he radically changed course, moving toward a more somber, even oppressive effect. The rich palette for the series—deep reds, maroons and oranges—recalls fire, lava, smoke and dried blood. An entire gallery is devoted to ten Rothko works in the Cleveland Museum of Art presentation of The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection. Untitled (Seagram Mural Sketch), 1959. Mark Rothko (American, b. Russia, 1903—1970). Oil and mixed media on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. 1985.38.5. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Resurrection:

Glaucus and Nydia, 1867. Lawrence Alma-Tadema. This painting interprets an anecdote in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 novel, Last Days of Pompeii. In this scene, Nydia, a blind slave, weaves flowers into a garland for Glaucus, a young patrician with whom she has fallen in love. Alma-Tadema depended on photographs to develop his compositions and in 1863, while visiting Pompeii, he began his collection. He eventually compiled one of the most extensive archives of any painter of this period, and some of his photographs are on view in the exhibition. Glaucus and Nydia, 1867; reworked 1870. Lawrence Alma-Tadema (British 1838—1912). Oil on wood; 39 x 64.3 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Noah L. Butkin 1977.128

Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii, 2005. Lucy McKenzie. This scene depicts an anecdote involving the artist’s friends, who sneaked into a closed section of the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii and startled a scholar studying the paintings. Drawn in the style of Hergé’s cartoon character, Tintin, this work, although comical, may suggest there are more complex issues at stake concerning the role of public art. Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii, 2005. Lucy McKenzie (Scottish, b. 1977).Acrylic and ink on paper; 254 x 368.3 x 12.7 cm. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Purchased with funds provided by the Drawings Committee

The Dog from Pompei, 1991. Allan McCollum. For this work, the artist used a second-generation cast of the famous dog from the House of Vesonius Primus, first cast in 1874. While the animal’s contorted body gives the viewer an immediate emotional charge, McCollum’s fundamental goal for this series was to create an environment that would make the viewer reflect on how we use artifacts to engage with history, and how distant we ultimately are from the original dog. Dog from Pompei, 1991. Allan McCollum. Polymer-modified Hydrocal; 53 x 53 x 53 cm. Photo: Lamay Photo. Courtesy of the Artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York

Tickets for The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection are $15 for Adults, $13 for Students and Seniors, $7 for Children 6-17 (children 5 and under are free). The exhibition is free for museum members. Complementary exhibition programming includes lectures, tours and theatrical presentations by Theater Ninjas, a Cleveland-based performance art and theater group. Additional programming information may be found at clevelandart.org.

The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection is accompanied by a 256-page catalogue by Victoria C. Gardner Coates, Kenneth Lapatin and Jon L. Seydl. The catalogue is comprised of scholarly essays examining a range of topics, including the main themes of the exhibition: decadence, apocalypse and resurrection; Pompeii and new technology; an exploration of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s influential novel; and Pompeii in cinema. The catalogue, available in hardback, is published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and contains 150 color and 20 black and white illustrations.

The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. The presenting sponsor for the exhibition is BakerHostetler. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. Support for the Theatre Ninja project has been provided by the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Painting and Drawing Society, Dr. Nancy Clay-Marsteller, Antoinette Miller, and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Schubert.

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About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes almost 45,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing an ambitious, multi-phase renovation and expansion project across its campus, the museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.