The Classical Now, Now!


On one of the last days of February, when London was engulfed in a snow blizzard, the Arcade of Bush House had some of its walls painted in an unmistakably electric blue hue.

To be more precise, the shade was International Klein Blue (IKB), first mixed by the French painted Yves Klein. Michael Squire, a reader of classical art at King’s and head curator of the Classical Now exhibition explained most mysteriously that the palette choice would become clearer as we explored this new exhibit which spreads across the Bush House and the Inigo Rooms of the East Wing of the Somerset House.

As the title reveals, The Classical Now seeks to explore how Greek and Roman art is a force majeure behind modern and postmodern art, and how its classical interpretation remains relevant and elicits different responses from contemporary audiences. Created in collaboration with the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM), the exhibition seeks to unify the inherent dichotomy between the classical, the modern and the postmodern, featuring the works of Grayson Perry, Jean Cocteau and Henry Moore, amongst others.

The Bush House Arcade incorporates Liquid Antiquity: Conversations, a video-installation featuring interviews with six contemporary artists: Matthew Barney, Paul Chan, Urs Fischer, Jeff Koons, Asad Raza and Kaari Upson, commissioned by the DESTE foundation of contemporary art. A beautiful gold model of a heart, picked from Damien Heart’s shipwreck- inspired ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ exhibition Venice seems to greet the visitor in this cornucopia of artistic morsels trying to piece together the pressing mystical influence of Greek and Roman Art. Two early drawings of Pablo Picasso merge the eroticism of mythology and his own entanglements.

We walked across the untouched snowy courtyard of Somerset House to the East Wing for the next part of the exhibition. Across the Inigo Rooms, the exhibition was less chronological in its depictions and more thematic, bringing unrelated artistic artefacts together, and joining them under the three themes: place, myth and pose. It was fascinating to see ancient limestone, obtained by the Greek artist Christodoulos Panayiotou, repurposed to coexist with the rigid and almost industrially produced pop art interpretation of ancient columns of Roy Lichtenstein. In the theme of Myth, a video installation of the myth of the minotaur by Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley reminded the audience how mythology can get updated while retaining its ancient mysticism and often perverse and violent nature.

The room dedicated to pose was a compelling depiction of the raw sexual depictions of ancient Greek forms. A beautiful and rare bronze head of Apollo juxtaposed with the so- called poster girl of the exhibition, Yves Klein’s Blue Venus. The IKB, it was explained, encapsulates the past, the future, the air and the sea, of Greece and Italy, and thus creates a serene yet forceful backdrop for the exhibition.

Though the exhibition might feel fragmented and discordant at some instances, rest assured that it is the intentions of the curators to communicate the fragmentation of classical artefacts we are in possession of and the post modern urge for serialisation. This sense of incompletion, is perhaps what makes classical civilisations so timeless and influential after all, they leave space for one’s imagination to truly go wild.

The Arcade at Bush House and Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing King’s College London

2 March – 28 April 2018

Tuesday – Saturday: 11.00 – 17.00

The Classical Now Blue Venus DACS

Yves Klein, Blue Venus (S 41), 1962. Dry pigment and synthetic resin on plaster 69.5 × 30 × 20 cm. © Yves Klein estate, ADAGP Paris / DACS, London, 2018; Image © Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM) 2018

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