Liquid Antiquity: Conversations

  • April 4-September 17, 2017
  • Benaki Museum
  • 1 Koumbari St. & Vas. Sofias Ave., 106 74 Athens

Liquid Antiquity is a platform for radically rethinking the relationship between the classical and the contemporary. Antiquity is an irrepressible source of meaning today. But what it means is never fixed in stone. It must instead be continually rethought for an always changing “we” under always changing conditions of local and global significance. Resisting classicism as dead weight, Liquid Antiquity aims to make the ancient Greek past available as a fluid resource for the present by shifting attention from the matter of antiquity to the question of why antiquity matters.

Liquid Antiquity is therefore an exhibition without antiquities. The book becomes the primary site for staging an encounter with a “liquid” antiquity in word and image through conversations with contemporary artists, a critical lexicon that draws from the long history of classicism, and an essay mapping the contours of “liquid antiquity.” Spanning twenty-five hundred years in an unprecedented collaborationbetween leading artists, theorists, writers, art historians, classicists, cultural historians, and archaeologists, Liquid Antiquity is a handbook, deeply collaborative in spirit and experimental in form, for the creative work of reimagining the present through the ancient past.

“Liquid Antiquity: Conversations” works as a complement to the book. Six installations are distributed throughout the antiquities galleries of the Benaki Museum, each structured around a conversation between Brooke Holmes and an artist who contributed to the book: Matthew Barney, Paul Chan, Urs Fischer, Jeff Koons, Asad Raza, and Kaari Upson. The original settings of the interviews — artists’ studios and apartments — are superimposed on the real space of the museum and the dialogue is extended to the museum visitor. The antiquities collection is both the backdrop to and the context in which ancient artifacts interact with contemporary artists in dialogue with the past and the present. Moving experientially from the private reading relationship with the book to the static presence of the artifact to the active video encounters with the featured artists, the visitor is invited not only to reassess our relationship with ancient Greece but also to participate in the shifting scales and contours of the “we” who encounter the classical past.

Conceived and developed by Brooke Holmes, Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics at Princeton University, in collaboration with Polina Kosmadaki, Head Curator at the Benaki Museum, and Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, artistic advisor to the DESTE Foundation, Liquid Antiquity explores the possibility of reinventing classicism and argues for its enduring influence on contemporary art.  The project was organized by the DESTE Foundation in collaboration with “Postclassicisms” and the Benaki Museum, Athens.

The project includes a publication, co-edited by Brooke Holmes and Karen Marta, which consists of critical contributions by renowned scholars and ten conversations with prominent artists, as well as a site-specific video installation which places six interviews with the artists who contributed to the publication in dialogue with the Benaki Museum’s permanent collection of antiquities. The video installation was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and exhibited at the Benaki Museum in Athens from April 4-September 17, 2017.

Photo: Paul Chan (credit: Matthew Johnson, 2017)