Charles Ray in Rome

June 5, 2017
Shoe Tie, 2017; fiberglass pattern, 28 7/8 x 29 1/4 x 23 1/2 inches.
1 of 2

Thursday, Friday and Saturday 
from 4pm to 7pm (until 2 July 2017)

In the spirit of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869), which brought American mythologies into relief through direct encounters with Europe, AAR invited celebrated artist Charles Ray, to explore the theme of “American Classics.” The new sculpture resulting from this invitation debuts in a two-work exhibition at the Academy in May, during the artist’s tenure as the 2017 Deenie Yudell Artist in Residence. The show is part of a year-long program investigating the enduring currency of antiquity in the contemporary world. 

For many years, Charles has hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains, a coastal range in Southern California. Bound by major traffic arteries and some of the most densely settled areas of the United States, the Santa Monica range hosts a dwindling population of mountain lions, a vestige of the storied American frontier, struggling to survive in a habitat too isolated and too small to sustain it. His pre-dawn walks in this environment doubtless inspired both of the exhibited works, but in each Charles also plays with conventions defining the canons of classical sculpture. 

Shoe Tie (2012) recalls Boy with Thorn (1st c. BC), also called Spinario, a bronze sculpture from the Capitoline Museums. Charles’s work is a self-portrait, naked, like the classical figure, crouching down as if to retie his shoelaces. In doing so, he exposes his neck and so leaves himself vulnerable to an attack from a mountain lion. In Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog (2017), the commissioned work, Charles revisits a famed Hellenistic sculpture from the Capitoline Museums: Lion Attacking a Horse (Greek, 325–300 BC; restored in Rome in 1594). An icon of Rome and among the most storied works of art to survive from antiquity, this sculptural group was greatly admired by Michelangelo. Charles converts its naturalistic scene of primal violence into the vernacular of contemporary America, transposing it to an American wilderness encroached on and compromised by urban sprawl. Reimagining classical prototypes in a personal and culturally specific way, Charles confronts the uneasy truce between humans and a natural world threatened with extinction. 

 In two public lectures related to the exhibition, Charles discussed how his approach to sculpture explores American myths and is informed by closely looking at the art of the past. 

The exhibition is curated by Peter Benson Miller, Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome. 

The lectures and exhibition are made possible by the Syde Hurdus Foundation.