Starting with the comparison between the respective research methods, disciplinary fields and collections, ‘Pompeii@Madre. Archaeological Matter’ consists in the analysis of various, possible relationships between archaeological heritage and artistic research. It offers a dialogue between extraordinary archaeological materials from Pompeii which are relatively unknown and rarely displayed, and both modern and contemporary art works.
The exhibition, mostly displayed in the exhibition rooms of the Madre museum, has been arranged into two
1. ‘Pompeii@Madre. Archaeological Matter’ (third floor): 19 th November 2017 - 30 th April 2018
2. ‘Pompeii@Madre. Archaeological Matter: The Collections’ (entrance and first floor): 19 th November 2017 - 9 th January 2019
The route of the exhibition starts with ‘Pompeii@Madre. Archaeological Matter: The Collections’ at the entrance and on the first floor of Madre museum. It continues up on the third floor with ‘Pompei@Madre. Archaeological Matter’ which is a circular walk-through of works, artefacts, documents and instruments, that are linked to the history of the different excavation campaigns in Pompeii, starting with the rediscovery of the site in 1748. These items are compared with modern and contemporary works and documents. Over the past two and a half centuries, each one of these works and documents hailing from public and private, Italian and international collections, has continued to claim that the value and the inspiration of the contemporaries of the Pompeii archaeological material. These metaphorical time travellers who have acted as carriers between different spaces, periods and cultures, while continually drawing comparisons, have contributed in defining European modernity. For this reason, hints of visual
arts, literature, music, theatre, cinema, historiography, cartography, prehistoric archaeology, anthropology, biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, genetics, as well as the wide field of new technologies are all combined. In an attempt to define hypothetical analogies throughout ancient, modern and contemporary history, the exhibit tells the story of some “matter" that lay dormant for over a thousand years after the eruption of 24 th August 79 A.D.. After its first discovery in 1748 it was recurrently rediscovered, thanks to the numerous travellers of the Grand Tour. Despite experiencing new, dramatic catastrophes like the damage suffered from Anglo-American bombing which began in Pompeii on 24 th August 1943 during the Second World War, the city did also experience renewal and it was now ready to follow new paths and feats. Living matter. It looks like the poet Goethe, who in 1787 wrote "there have been many disasters in this world, but few have given so much delight to posterity", received an answer in 1804 from another writer, Chateaubriand, when he visited "a Roman city preserved in its entirety as if its inhabitants had just
left fifteen minutes ago". Many other artists and intellectuals have since followed, joining the present and the works of a lot of contemporary artists and intellectuals on display. It is the story of this simultaneously fragile and pugnacious, archetypical and fleeting "archaeological matter" that has allowed Pompeii to continue being contemporary, which is precisely the story being told by this exhibition. On the third floor, as well as in the entrance hall and first floor, the organisation of the exhibit into separate rooms disregards a chronological parameter. It develops a narration in various chapters where each work refers to the others in the room, independently from dating, origin or features. The route is introduced through the presentation of some excavation papers (1780, 1853) and by the first of the diary/registers
that document the destruction in 1943. These are surrounded by the instruments an archaeologist would use daily (shovels, picks, brushes, baskets, sieves, engineer square sets, lanterns, signs and stretchers) and by a map showing an aerial view of Pompeii seen in 1910 by hot-air balloon. The centre of the room is dominated by the presence of some boulders where some organic or inorganic elements are growing and taking shape, like superfetation. These are the work of Adrián Villar Rojas. In a first short circuit between plausible and implausible, instead of an archaeological find, in front of us there is a contemporary piece of work. After a showcase-bookshelf where the bibliographical history of fascination with the "archaeological matter" of Pompeii over the span of two and a half centuries is collected together with a text by Darren Bader and a drawing representing the falling of volcanic ashes by Renato Leotta, the exhibition leads us to rooms where modern documents such as watercolour prints, photos, furnishing objects, unique or multiplied artefacts (the latter are genuine antique multiples) integrate with archaeological fragments and artefacts and with contemporary works. The aquatints of the series ‘Vues pittoresques de Pompéi’ by Jakob Wilhelm Hüber, an apprentice of painter Jacob Philipp Hackert, and a seminal figure for the origin of the School of Posillipo, lead towards Roman Ondák’s recovered prints where Hüber includes an impossible
pencil self-portrait as witness to the same events more than two centuries later. The theory of the columns in Basilica I and Basilica II by Victor Burgin invades the photographic sequence of pictures that document the succession of the excavation campaigns in Pompeii. The subject contradicts itself while simultaneously being reaffirmed by the three-dimensional and phantasmatic materialisations of Maria Loboda's broken column, Iman Issa's golden-white base, Rita McBride's architectural profile, Mark Manders' sculptural profile, and by Luigi Ghirri’s photograph. Parietal and mosaic decorations are now in the foreground and, together with the different styles in Pompeii for the illusive representation, they offer themselves to the point of view of Nan Goldin's and Mimmo Jodice's analogue camera, to the digital style of Laure Prouvost's tapestry or to the compendiario style of Betty Woodman's ceramic low relief, which looks like it was shaped with the same curiosity that animates modern copies of the great Alexander Mosaic, drawn with pencil or made with earthenware in relief. The sketches and studies of architectural details accomplished by Claude- Ferdinand Gaillard, Pierre Gusman and Jules-Leon Chiffot between 1861 and 1927 combine with fragments of original domus, while Fausto Melotti's puppet theatre which is supported by Thea Djordjadze's Pompeian red metallic structure, is the background for two bisque porcelains of the Royal Factory of Capodimonte and for a contemporary pietre dure work, that reproduces the Temple of Isis, the first shrine
that was found intact in Pompeii, in 1764. In the same room, Le Corbusier's drawings explore the biodynamic features of the domus in Pompeii with its balance between the inside and outside, the architectural components and the relationship with the surrounding environment, structure and decorative hangings, all affirming a spatial experience, that is opposite to the symbolic and antidemocratic rhetoric of the Roman monuments. And if a wall of the Golden Bracelet's fresco is seen in conjunction with a wall whose silver paint was sprinkled with a hydrant, and which is cut through Pádraig Timoney's small paintings, Haris Epaminonda's ethereal environmental installations look like they were summoned from the bowls with multi-coloured powder found in Pompeii or from one of their final products: a detached fresco with a female character framed with two plant wreaths and carried in triumph by a group of elephants. The central room of the exhibition opens instead with a series of views of the Vesuvian countryside, with an erupting volcano. The eruption, as if in a cinematographic long shot that films the whole room in a circular
panning, looks like it has been continuously active since the mid-eighteenth century. There are various views of neoclassic, romantic and naturalistic-realistic era (from Johan Christian Dahl, Joseph François Désiré Thierry, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Pierre-Jacques Volaire to Gioacchino Toma), to the 80s of the twentieth century, with an example of Warhol's Vesuvius. The eruption temporarily stops in the same year of the exhibit with Wade Guyton's work, Untitled. Piles of stone and ceramic “archaeological matter” from Pompeii are situated in the middle of the room, in two big depot-tanks. They are in silent confrontation with Trisha Donnelly and Christodoulos Panayiotou's marble and stone works, from which traces of a hypothetical figuration emerge. They represent the flow of this matter in different, but coexistent ages, means, styles, and sensitivities. Moreover, on a clay floor by Petra Feriancová the adjoining room hosts pure changing matter from Robert Rauschenberg's assemblage ‘Pompeii Gourmet’ to Mike Nelson's leaf-tyre. After a room dedicated to a conjectural and highly imaginative museography entrusted with Mark Dion's peep show and Hamiltonian showcases and framed by Ernesto Tatafiore's ‘fire painter’,
the following rooms develop like an epicede dedicated to death, the death of everything, of every human being and of every animal and plant under the rain of lapilli, ashes and pumices in 79 A.D. In a ritual diachrony that apparently levels everything, we move from Jimmie Durham's fossilised office to the documents of Operation Vesuvius in which the critic and curator Pierre Restany proposed to transform the Vesuvian area into a ‘cultural park’, a gigantic work of ‘Land Art’ in 1972. From here we continue until we find the identification between earth and sky in the rough canvas that embraces them both, painted by Salvatore Emblema at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. From an ossuary closet hailing from Pompeii's
storehouses, we move on to gigantic profiles standing on spotless skulls of Nino Longobardi's Terrae Motus, to Antonio Biasiucci's black and white skulls/loaves, to the low relief in plastic material of a white bomber by Seth Price, to Nairy Baghramian's seating furniture/body imprints. Furthermore, from the cast of ‘Pompeii's dog’ we meet Allan McCollum's serial multiplication of the dog, and then Roberto Cuoghi's showcases of birds slowly and progressively decaying. The moulding technique used was developed and promoted by Pompeii's Director, Giuseppe Fiorelli, between 1863 and 1868. At this point of the exhibit a taxonomy of organic materials emerges in an air-conditioned showcase. These are the remains of that life in Pompeii that was buried, carbonised, fragmented, but yet not annihilated completely leaving seeds, shrubs, fruits, shells, bones, eggs, loaves, and fabric behind. From those remnants of life, patiently gathered and knowingly studied by archaeologists, agronomists and botanists, anthropologists and zoologists, chemists and physicists, life in Pompeii could be born again... rising from its own ashes. This is what zoomorphic vases and anthropomorphic masks also found in Pompeii seem to suggest. It would seem that Goshka Macuga, through the hypothetical mediation of Ettore Sottsass' ruin-vase, finds his inspiration in
these when he retraces the history of the "short century" that has just ended, entrusting it to his most revolutionary intellectual icons, from whose heads flowers sprout. And now we come to the end of this exhibition which actually brings us back to the beginning due to its circular structure. Maria Thereza Alves had been assigned the task to collect some seeds from a real garden growing in the last room of the exhibition, following the layout that can be also found in Bill Beckley's collage. New plants are not only going to sprout here, but will also retrace the historical origin of the planted seeds. Hence through this multicultural hybrid matrix, there will be new stories. So that Pompeii will always remain...a contemporary matter.
‘Pompeii@Madre. Achaeological Matter… And all the artists, intellectuals, creators of works, artefacts and organic and inorganic testimonies of the city of Pompeii’.
This project is the result of the cooperation between Naples Madre museum and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. In the Madre museum the exhibitions ‘Pompei@Madre. Archaeological Matter’ (which is part of the ‘Progression and strengthening of the MADRE museum’ project) and ‘Pompeii@Madre. Archaeological Matter:
The Collections’ (which is part of the ‘Itineraries of Contemporary-Comparisons’ project) have been entirely funded by POC (COMPLEMENTARY OPERATIVE PROGRAMME) 2014-2020 of the Campania Region and have been carried out by SCABEC SpA, Company for the Cultural Heritage in Campania, which oversees every organisational aspect.
The exhibition catalogue is published by Electa, which supports the entire editorial project as technical sponsor.
The scientific publication includes texts by Luigi Gallo, Massimo Osanna and Andrea Viliani, together with a visual essay comprising pictures and data of all the works, artefacts and documents on display.