Monday, October 27, 2008

Pompeiian White Castle

I visited the Pompeii expo at the NGA and felt like there were two, perhaps three and a half, shows taking place. There is the thesis of the show outlined in the title Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around The Bay Of Naples. At the entryway you are surrounded by huge pictorial representations of the Roman Villa.

The second show is of the exemplary objects on view. The portrait busts and free standing figures are tremendous, and in the case of the hermaphroditic wrestling match, scandalous. **That sculpture is my personal favorite. Just saying.**

However, the unbelievably great sculptures and frescoes are somewhat diminished by the third show. The exhibition design. I thought it was tedious with the niches and columns, and over designed in general. Rather the exhibition design had less to do with educating us about the objects and more about giving us a literal interpretation of their place in the Roman Villa. Which wasn't expected given the expertly integrated DADA and Rousseau exhibition spaces.

Of particular offense was the triclinium. Not the art within it of course, but the staging, which I was utterly confused by. Was it really designed to be a triclinium that you would see in Pompeii as it would appear today? With this "gravel-y" flooring? Really?! Are you kidding?! The photo reproductions of the mosaics on the floor are another shortcoming. They are charming lying there as a mosaic would have dome in a Roman Villa, however, the mosaicness -how forms, volumes and designs are realized with little bits of tile- is lost. Thus the magic is lost.

The "and a half show" was the art about the mystery and legacy of Pompeii in the final galleries. It is all schmaltz all the time. Here you will find the Nydia, The Blind Girl of Pompeii, and paintings of roughly the same level of kitch. Favorites include: the soldier standing guard while embers are flying around with money sprinkled on the ground (?), violent waves in the Bay of Naples as Vesuvius goes supernova-ships are tossed, lightning erupts. Truly inspirational disaster pictures.

So, in is awesome. The object in this show are amazing. Populist/administrative group think in exhibition design is not awesome. Or perhaps it's the new awesome.

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