Sculpture with a tragic spirit

It sometimes seems that certain works of art carry the spirit of the time in which they were made more strongly than others. This can be said about the late Marino Marini’s sculpture, the truncated figures and his monumental tragic horses and riders that are so typical of his work. They are works that immediately bring to mind the disenchantment after World War II. They reflect the need of the times for commemorative sculpture that expressed a collective sentiment and payed homage to human sacrifice, an art that was about the tragic, not the heroic, about pain and not victory. «I aspire to rendering visible the last stage in the disintegration of a myth, the myth of heroic and victorious individualism, of the humanists’ man of virtue. My work in recent years does not set out to be heroic, but tragic,» the Italian sculptor once said. This sense of tragedy, loss and pain that the artist so much aspired to express through his work is captured in the sculptures included in «Marino Marini: An Archaic Sculptor of Modern Art,» a large exhibition on the artist’s work now on display at the National Gallery’s Glyptotheque. The exhibition is curated by the well-known Italian art historian Giuliano Serafini in collaboration with the National Gallery’s curator, Artemis Zervou. The gray-toned surfaces of Marini’s oxidized bronze sculptures and the stiffened, tense poses of the angular figures and horses evoke a sense of impending death. Apparently, Marini (1901-1980) was inspired by the petrified motion of the incinerated bodies uncovered at Pompeii. What mostly inspired him, however, was Etruscan and Archaic sculpture, the art that belonged to the pre-Classical, European tradition. Like other artists of his generation, Marini was influenced by the interwar trend for a «call to order,» which had a triggered off a return to tradition. Instead of Classical, ideal beauty and a sense of harmony, Marini’s sculpture has that primitive, almost brutal force that is found in much of Archaic sculpture. And, like much pre-Classical art it borders on the abstract. The exhibition includes some riveting works. Among them is «Miracle,» from 1953-54, a sculpture of a horse that has fallen on its back legs. The small figure of its rider is standing erect and still on the horse’s back. The upward movement of the animal’s long neck captures a last, futile attempt to stay alive and the cruciform shape that the figure of the rider makes with the body of the horse are a symbolic suggestion of tragedy. Less tragic and more corporeal-like are Marini’s «Pomonas,» the sculptures of female figures that are inspired by the Etruscan deity of fertility. However, even in those depictions of Mother Nature, distortion and pain somehow prevail over the concept of well-being and fertility. Another example of the macabre comes from the artist’s series of jugglers. «Dancer,» from 1953, contains nothing of the gracefulness and adolescent youthfulness of a Degas ballerina. The figure’s facial features resemble a skull and the movement a stiffened, lifeless pose. A third of Marini’s artistic output consists of busts, many of them of famous artists such as Marc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka, Henry Moore and Jean Arp, the architect Mies van der Rohe, the writer Henry Miller and the composer Igor Stravinsky. The selection on display include some of the most expressive works in the exhibition. Interestingly, Marini applied color to many of his busts. It was a way of evoking Archaic sculpture that was usually painted on. Marino Marini was an «Archaic sculptor.» He did not just mimic the shape and form of Archaic art but brought elements of it into his work in a symbolic way to suggest archetypal, unchanging ideas. In times of war, this return to stability must have provided a much needed solace. «Marino Marini,» at the National Gallery’s Glyptotheque (at the Military Park in Goudi, off Katehaki Avenue, tel 210.7709.855) through October 30. The National Glyptotheque The National Sculpture Gallery and the Sculpture Park that the National Gallery recently inaugurated at the Military Park in Goudi offer city-dwellers an opportunity for pleasant walks in cool, lush surroundings. The premises include a building that will host temporary exhibitions (currently, the Marino Marini exhibition) and another that will host works from the National Gallery’s permanent collection of Greek sculpture. Works from some of the most important Greek sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th century (Yiannoulis Halepas, Dimitrios Filippotis, Lazaros Sochos are among them) as well as a sample of postwar and contemporary Greek sculpture are currently on display. A sculpture by Rene Magritte and a recently acquired work by Antoine Bourdelle are also on show. The surrounding park, is filled with outdoor sculptures. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is the main sponsor of the National Glyptotheque. Monday, Wednesday 5-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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