Archeologically, the cast isn’t too important. But it went on to make a big stamp on modernism—and maybe even on Freud’s early patients, who viewed it from his couch.
Freud, who owned many authentic antiquities, acquired this reproduction because it depicts a fictional character—the sculpted woman who obsessed an archeologist in a 1903 novella by Wilhelm Jensen. That book became the subject of Freud’s psychoanalytic essay Delusion and Dream in Jensen’s Gradiva (1907), which in turn obsessed a long line of Surrealists and their kin—from Dalí (who nicknamed his wife after her), to Breton (who named a gallery after her) to Duchamp (whose erotic objects honored her) to Masson, Barthes, Derrida, and Robbe-Grillet.
The meaning of Rauschenberg’s dog is disputed; Seydl suggests it embodies the threat of nuclear war. Inevitably, the show argues, the art imagining this spectacular lost-and-found city reflects anxieties about our own. “Despite all that has changed in the past two millennia, this is the event that could happen again and with much the same consequences,” write Getty director Timothy Potts and David Franklin, director of the Cleveland Museum (where the show travels before arriving at Quebec’s Musée national de beaux-arts) in their co-authored catalogue introduction.
Then there’s Concordia, Concordia, Thomas Hirshhorn’s massive piece at Gladstone on 21st Street, inspired by the sinking of an Italian cruise ship earlier this year. The scene is definitely a disaster. The installation—which the viewer cannot enter—is a huge jumble of furniture, gear, kitschy decorations, and humble materials that stand in for the high-tech innards of the ship, threatening to collapse further at any moment.
The role of art as document, catharsis, elegy, and inspiration in times of disaster is nowhere more clear than in a show that opened a few days after “Pompeii” in another part of L.A.: “In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st-Century Haitian Art,” at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. Exuberant and heart-rending, raw and brash, mournful and scary, the exhibition (which travels to Quebec’s Musée de la civilization), features works dating back to the mid-20th century, but mostly from this one, when a series of catastrophes—most tragically, but not most recently, the 2010 earthquake—shattered the nation.
The show’s theme, though, is how these accumulated catastrophes have affected images of Haiti’s gods, particularly the Gedes, trickster deities of the vodou pantheon. The curatorial team, lead by Donald J. Cosentino, traces how imagery of the Gede—god of death, of resurrection, of sexuality—has become more intimidating, aloof, disconnected from the populace whose unrepressed desires he traditionally represented.
Cosentino describes these works as “Post-apocalyptic arts,” a term that aptly reflects the visceral, hellish reality they convey. But the phrase, he concedes, only works up to a point. In Haiti, the apocalypse is still going on.