Contemporary Artworks Inspired By the Classics of European Art

March 20, 2020

Throughout the 19th century, many European museums were established under the influence of art history which was the burgeoning scientific discipline at the time. The first public collections were gradually formed to explore, overview and articulate the art mankind created throughout the centuries.

Nowadays, it is not rare for the world museums to critically revisit their artifacts and unravel new interpretations of it in regards to contemporaneity. That is why the current exhibition titled Inspiration – Iconic Works at the Swedish Nationalmuseum in Stockholm (and subsequently at the Finnish Ateneum) tends to establish the connection between art history and contemporary art with a selection of exceptional artworks made by more than thirty international artists including the Old Masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Rodin.

Interior from the exhibition Inspiration - Iconic Works at Nationalmuseum
Interior from the exhibition Inspiration - Iconic Works at Nationalmuseum. Photo Anna Danielsson

Revisiting Art History

Namely, this group exhibition is conceived as a dialog between the artists working in different periods; the visitors have a unique chance to see the importance of the Old Masters and their lasting influence with contemporary works made as a reaction to their iconic imagery. The other important task of the curatorial team consisting of London-based art historian James Putnam, general director of Nationalmuseum in Sweden, Susanna Pettersson, Ateneum’s director Marja Sakari and chief curator Sointu Fritze, is to explore how the museum’s collections visually empower and reflect on art history for a contemporary audience. Pettersson expressed her perception of the significance of the Inspiration in the following statement:

We are quite accustomed to being able to visit museums and art exhibitions during our leisure time. On the other hand, however, we rarely think about how the great story of art history has emerged, or on the important role that museums have played in this context. The exhibition reflects on the influence that this long tradition has in today’s visual culture.

Jake and Dinos Chapman - Disasters of War
Jake & Dinos Chapman - Disasters of War IV, 2001. Etching and watercolour.© Jake & Dinos Chapman. Courtesy of the Artists

The Works

The installment includes contemporary works such as Mat Collishaw’s photo series Last Meal on Death Row reminiscent of the 17th-century still-life paintings; photographic tondos by Yinka Shonibare of Medusa based on Caravaggio’s portrait in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence; a series of etchings by the Chapman brothers inspired by Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of War; the work Black Mass (after Leonardo) by Jenny Saville that is inspired by Leonardo’s sketch for the Burlington House Cartoon; Sam Taylor-Johnson’s video work, Still Life, featuring decomposing fruit; the waxwork recreation of Jacques-Louis David’s 1793 painting Death of Marat by Gavin Turk.

These pieces are featured alongside the original classical works that inspired them, including a selection of classical reinterpretations of European works by Finnish masters such as Helene Schjerfbeck, Adolf von Becker, and few others.

Inspiration – Iconic Works also features artworks made specifically for this occasion such as Sara Masüger’s interpretation of the Laocoön Group, photographs of museums and some classics such as Nefertiti's head by Ola Kolehmainen, and Mark Karasick’s work largely inspired by Michelangelo’s drawing.

Interior from the exhibition Inspiration - Iconic Works at Nationalmuseum
Interior from the exhibition Inspiration - Iconic Works at Nationalmuseum. Photo Anna Danielsson

Inspiration – Iconic Works At Two Venues

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive publication, as well as a multi-faceted program (that is postponed at the moment until further notice) so that the public can receive in-depth perspectives on the works.

The installment at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is currently closed due to coronavirus, but the current end date of Inspiration – Iconic Works is 17 May 2020. As per today's schedule, the show will then travel to Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki from 18 June until 20 September 2020.

Featured images: Interior from the exhibition Inspiration - Iconic Works at Nationalmuseum. Photo: Anna Danielsson. Images courtesy of Nationalmuseum.

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