The art of seriality

The art of seriality

Why do we value an original rather than a replication? Seriality, reproduction, imitation and reworking have been ingrained in our culture since the Classical period. Such is the purpose of the exhibition at Milan’s Fondazione Prada, Serial Classic: Multiplying Art in Greece and Rome. 

Curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola, to explore this pervasive tension between ingenuity and imitation, Serial Classic is one of two exhibitions (along with Portable classic: Ancient Greece to Modern Europe on display at the Fondazione in Venice), which attempt to display classical sculptures present in Roman culture and the desire for the circulation of replicas as dedication to Greek art. The reproduction of Greek-Roman statuary on a small scale is portrayed from the Renaissance to Neoclassicism, respectively. The word “classical” usually signifies originality, but in no other period of western art were the production of copies from great masterpieces as important as in late Republican Rome and throughout the Imperial age. The pieces capture the zeitgeist of these periods in time.

Three themes are apparent in the Serial Classic: archeological research, the passion of the Romans for civic domestic decoration using copies of Greek masterpieces, and the “choral” nature of classical Greek art. All of these themes come together to signify the use and reuse of classical art, its origins and purpose as well as its influence on the future. The exhibition is divided into nine sections, spanning two floors of the museum.

Curator Salvatore Settis describes the main theme of Serial Classic in his essay “Serial / Portable Classic” as: “The uses and reuses, nature, functions and destiny of classical art”.

Serial Classic consists of more than 70 artworks, predominantly copies with some originals. As a society we stare at the distinctive cuts in marble searching for the meaning, the moment in which the artist was trying to capture. Ethos, the Greek word for character, speaks to the nature and scale of the statues. Bronze, marble, terracotta: the choice of materials used in these sculptures articulated different meanings. To the Greek eye, a difference in materials signified the hierarch of values: bronze was precious rather than marble and more appropriate for expressing the ethos of a god, hero or sovereign.

Whether it’s the magnificence of the contrapposto of The Discobolus or the raw emotion transmitted through marble of the peaceful yet, ominous stare of Doidalsas’s Crouching Venus, the distinction of copy and original disappeared.

Notable pieces include Penelope. In the section “The Passion for Seriality” shows how repetition and serial production was not limited to copies, nor to terracotta’s and bronzes. On loan from the National Museum in Tehran is Penelope, a marble original from circa 450 B.C., with the complete series of six fragmented copies from the Roman age. Other originals are a series of terracotta busts from the Greek city Medma produced between 500 and 460 B.C., which strongly resemble one another as they were produced in molds.

“It is only in the absence of the original that representation may take place”, writes Settis.

The new Milan Fondazione Prada’s exhibits are more alive than ever. Fondazione opened to the public on May 9th, 2015. The structure was completed by OMA, and architects Rem Koolhaas & Chris van Duijn. Seven existing buildings are presented with three new structures (Podium, Cinema & Torre). The site was a former distillery complex dating back to the 1910s. Created in 1993, the Fondazione aims to answer this specific societal question: “What is a cultural institution for?” The museum aims to embrace the idea that culture is deeply rooted in our being and therefore, necessary. Though at times fascinating, others revolting, it is the innate need of every human being to be aware of culture.

“If we speak of the ‘Renaissance of antiquity’ we are not using an empty formula but a powerful metaphor. We are saying that Antiquity (like any culture) may die but that it can also be reborn”, writes Settis.

So what does Fondazione Prada represent for Milan, for EXPO? How are exhibitions defining the critical thinking of the moment? With the opening of a permanent venue in Milano, the Fondazione offers new opportunities to enrich the process of learning.” Thus, Milan is the cultural melting pot for new ideas, personalities and symbolism in art. They say, “Imitation is the purest form of flattery” and I must contend the originals would be honored.

In your opinion, in which situation is the copy better than the original? Post on Facebook, or Twitter, and tell us!

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