"Pompeii and the Roman Villa," installation view at LACMA, 2009.
The entombment of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD was the cultural equivalent of burying Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, creating a time capsule of a life of wealth and luxury. Pompeii and the Roman Villa also demonstrates a practice that was unique at that time: enjoying an object as a purely aesthetic pleasure. Unlike Greek art, which was the model and inspiration for the Romans, the art of the villas served no communal or religious purposes. Instead the bronze and marble statuary was an advertisement of position and power in society, ornaments of second homes, jewels for landscapes and entertainment for the privileged.
Although the exhibition is sanitized of the bawdy sexual nature of the good citizens of Pompeii and cleansed of the lower classes, it is a rare opportunity to see entire walls of paintings, exquisite jewelry, astonishing mosaics, and beautiful sculptures. The range of artistry extends from accomplished and sophisticated to provincial copies of never-seen originals. Most interesting is the section of the exhibition that includes Nineteenth-Century responses to the classical life of Pompeii. Here is a theme for an entire exhibition condensed to one room that includes paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, and an impressive Alma-Tadama. This show-within-a-show is recommended with a caution--one is presented with a multitude of objects, out of context, and removed from history. On display is not a way of life, but a series of clues to a long-lost civilization.
Exhibition runs through October 4.
Published courtesy of ArtScene