Two sculptures emerge from the rows of empty storefronts at Shoppes at Ithaca Mall. One depicts an ancient Greek athlete holding a disc. The other depicts the dramatic face of a male warrior above a roaring lion; “Rising Warrior Within” is by contemporary black artist Sherwin Banfield.
“The two plaster casts engage with each other,” said Verity Platt, associate professor of classics and art history and visual studies at the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). “Banfield’s sculpted critique of the white ideal contrasts with the classic cast’s embodiment of the Western canon.”
The works are part of the “Sculpture Shoppe” exhibition, temporarily housed in a former clothing store. The exhibition features selections from Cornell’s plaster cast collection of Greco-Roman sculpture alongside – and sometimes within – contemporary artists’ responses to casting culture and classical art. The curators, Platt and David Nasca, MFA ’22, aim to engage the audience in a conversation “about the history, problematic, and mutability of the ‘Western canon’.”
The centerpiece of the exhibition features several works placed in “Follies Folly,” a synthesis of architectural and theatrical follies created by Brooklyn-based set designer and visual artist Dan Daly. Within the folly is a headless and armless plaster cast of the Apollo Sauroktonos, annotated with resin mushrooms created by New York sculptor Rhonda Weppler. In another section of the madness, a broken plaster head of the goddess Athena lies face down as Weppler’s mushrooms sprout from its damaged interior.
“Altering those idealized, ‘perfect’ bodies that have been wasted and shattered,” Weppler wrote, “the additions suggest…the way mushrooms thrive in that which has deteriorated—transformation and revitalization.”
Virginia Maksymowicz, an acclaimed multimedia installation artist, contributed an excerpt from her “Comparisons” series, in which she superimposes images of women onto silk textiles. “In recent years,” she writes, “my works have followed a complex visual journey of architecture and figurative/representative elements…. Caryatids and canephores are, in many ways, the visual summary of human life and the fundamental role of women in sustaining it.
Other artists in the exhibition include Kyle Staver, recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize; WonJung Choi, a Korean artist whose works have been exhibited nationally and internationally; and Christina West, associate professor of art at Georgia State University, whose video installation “Wounded Warrior” features a nude male model struggling to recreate a sculpted figure from a Greek temple pediment. The video piece, Platt said, upends the “gendered gaze game” of Western viewers.
The exhibit attracted so many successful artists because of its unified vision, Platt said. “Several artists have told me that it was the intellectual coherence of Sculpture Shoppe that appealed to them, combined with the ability to show works in dialogue with Cornell’s cast collection in the unexpected context of the mall.”
The exhibition opened on May 5 with a live performance by MUSE–AK who reinterpreted songs from ancient times as Muzak, the type of recorded background music typically played in retail spaces. . The concert featured both musicians and an animatronic statue named Muse 3000; his skeletal form is now part of the exhibit.
“We had about 50 people come to the opening,” Nasca said. “Visitors were excited about the artwork and curious about the theme.”
On May 29, the exhibit will close with a 6 p.m. performance by Buffalo-based non-binary musician Medusa, whose upcoming album, “The Allegory of the G/rave,” explores the Gorgon mythos through the prism of “revenge pop”. .” Medusa explains that “LGBTQIA+ people – especially transgender and gender-diverse people – see our own lives reflected in how Medusa was turned into a monster and then exiled from society. Her story is being recontextualized by people fighting for the woman behind the “monster.” What was once the face of a sadistic witch now becomes a symbol of power and difference.
The Sculpture Shoppe is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. until May 29. It is located in the Shoppes of Ithaca Mall, near the food court.
The exhibition is supported by grants from the Society for Classical Studies, the Cornell Council for the Arts, and the Department of Classics in A&S.
Linda B. Glaser is head of news and media relations for the College of Arts and Sciences.