Tag Archives: Ancient Greeks

Jinks @ the Hellenic Museum

The shock and awe of encountering the goddess Iris, apparently in the flesh. Not that the woman with golden wings is delivering a message, her usual role. Installed in a darkened room in front of a large pool reflecting like a mirror. Why is Iris pouring a jug? Nectar for the gods to drink or water from the River Styx to swear by? Or simply watering the clouds for rain?

Sam Jinks, Iris

Imagine if you were an ancient Greek and encountered Sam Jinks life-sized statue of Iris in a temple. Jinks is a Melbourne-based, super-realist sculptor. The ancient use of polychromatic paints on statues, ivory eyes, gold leaf, and other elements that have been largely destroyed by time. There are even reports of animatronic sculptures in temples in ancient Greece. We have been taught to forget all the colour looking at the white marble remains. And the unpainted white marble has become a racist symbol of ‘civilisation’.

However, there were no temples to Iris, a minor divine figure, a servant of the Olympian gods, sent to deliver a handful of messages, to collect water, and pour drinks. Some say that she the mother of Eros, others that Iris carried the young Nemean lion in her girdle from the sea to the mountains. Her appearance on the Parthenon is her most glorious moment; a running woman, her light linen chiton rippling with the movement.

Why show a messenger in a contemplative and static pose? Was it just an excuse to make a winged woman? These questions beat like the wings of Iris, rattling like wings of pigeons, around the quiet galleries of the Hellenic Museum. Why? Was it just an excuse?

The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne is an odd mix between art, antiquities, history and cultural exhibitions. It describes itself as “inspiring a passion for Greek history, art and culture”. It is also located in Melbourne’s old mint, which, apart from its Neo-classical facade, has nothing to do with Hellenic culture. The old mint is an attractive nineteenth-century building with an impressive walk-in vault, as you might expect to find in a mint.

Jinks is not the only artist with an exhibition at the Hellenic Museum. In front of the building, there is Renegades, a street-art/graffiti-inspired installation out the front of the building by a Spanish urban artist, PichiAvo. Inside, along with Iris, there is a photography installation by Bill Henson, Oneiroi, in an attractive dark nineteenth-century room. However, the photographs of Greek landscapes and backs of women’s heads were bland and uninspiring. As well as a room of contemporary icon paintings. There was also a room of contemporary icon paintings.

Most of the Hellenic Museum is not art but exhibitions of archaic Greek and ancient Greek antiquities: pottery, jewellery, statues, marble carving, helmets and weapons. There are even some Roman marble carving and enough red-figure vases to satisfy most people’s interest. The rest of the exhibitions are about modern Greek history and culture, much of it donated by the local community members. These are focused on establishing the modern Greek nation with folk costumes, jewellery, pistols and other antiques.

One curious feature of the Hellenic Museum was that there no signs in Greek. After visiting many antiquities museums in Greece that had signs in English, it felt odd. They would be of no use to me, but as Melbourne has one of the largest Greek-speaking population of any city in the world, they would be helpful to some people. For all the talk of multi-cultural Australia, there is almost no public paid signs anywhere in languages other than English.

Is Art a Religion?

Art is, to some, a kind of secular humanist religion that fills the cultural gap in the lives of contemporary people. I know that this has been said many times before but it is worth repeating not because it is true but because it should be considered.

If art is a religion with an abstract divinity (art) it has lots of minor deities, or saints (major artists). There are places of pilgrimage and holy relics – art galleries and significant works of art. The history of art bears many similarities to religious history forms like hagiography or jeremiads. As a religion it is observed with Sunday arts programming on ABC TV. It is a religion that believes that art is good for your soul and for your moral outlook and that the world will be improved by art.

In part this attitude has been inherited from the Ancient Greeks who believed that beauty was the point of contact between mortals and the gods. Without this same appreciation of beauty there was nothing but an immense power imbalance.

David R. Marshall is critical of the idea of art as a religion in his “Review: Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists” on the Melbourne Art Network. Specifically Marshall is critical of de Botton for suggesting that art galleries go further in turning art into a secular religion especially for his desire to replace art history with what Marshall calls “pop psychology”. To Marshall de Botton is a high philistine who wants to use the art as “merely illustrations of the moral or social issues that concern him.”

Other problems occur when thinking of art as a religion, strange irrational ideas about artists and art. Concerns are often raised about the Simony in art; Simony is the issue of buying or selling of something spiritual. This religious concern is at the root of many discussions about non-commercial art.

If art is a religion it is a very strange religion. It is not an exclusive religion, you don’t have to renounce your other faiths you can still have doubts. You don’t need to be initiated into this cult, there are no requirements, you can even scoff and critique, anyone is welcome. This doesn’t sound like a religion at all if the iconoclasts, blasphemers and scoffers are part of the congregation.

Art is not a religion however much de Botton and others might wish it. They will remain disappointed because art history has not worked that way. Art was divorced from religion about two centuries ago. Art, as we know it today, was invented a secular response to the removal of religious propaganda values from paintings and sculpture.

I have been interested in the arts all my life. Am I not the ideal candidate for this religion of art – the child of middle class secular materials parents? But I don’t believe in the religion of art. I doubt that art will make me a better person or the world a better place. Maybe contemporary art is not a religion but a type of walking and seated meditation; exercises for the mind and body.

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