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Getty Research Institute Exhibit Explores Relationship Between Archaeology and Dreams Through Collections of the Getty Center

Artists Anne and Patrick Poirier create an installation as part of the Côte Ouest Contemporary French Art Series
November 6, 1999 through January 30, 2000

October 7, 1999

LOS ANGELES--Archaeology depends as much on imagination as it does on science to re-create lost worlds. Distinguished artists Anne and Patrick Poirier explore this connection between archaeology and the imagination in their installation The Shadow of Gradiva: A Last Excavation Campaign through the Collections of the Getty Center by Anne and Patrick Poirier on view from November 6, 1999 through January 30, 2000. The exhibition displays the findings from the Poiriers’ "excavations" into the archives and collections of the Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum in search of Gradiva, a female character from Wilhelm Jensen’s 1903 novel Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fantasy. The Shadow of Gradiva is part of "Côte Ouest: A Season of French Contemporary Art," a series of exhibitions taking place at museums and art galleries throughout the West Coast.

Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fantasy tells the tale of a fictional archeologist named Norbert Hanold who is entranced with the image of a young woman on a Roman sculptural relief. The beauty of the figure fascinates him and he names her Gradiva (Latin for "she who advances"). Haunted by her image, he dreams that he sees Gradiva walking in Pompeii on the day Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. As he rushes to approach Gradiva, he discovers only a marble figure partially buried under the ashes of Vesuvius.

Jensen’s story greatly influenced Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. In an article from 1907, "Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva," Freud warned readers of the dangers in confusing dreams and delusions with reality. Like archaeology, psychoanalysis seeks to recover the past but through the interpretation of dreams, desires, and the unconscious state.

"[Freud’s] study made Jensen’s novel famous in art and literary circles. Since then, the shadow of Gradiva has not ceased to haunt the imagination of artists, and her distinctive silhouette continues to be seen in works of art. We ourselves have not escaped her power to fascinate, and she often appears in our work," states Anne and Patrick Poirier.

The first part of the exhibition features photographs drawn from the Research Institute’s collections representing ancient sculpture, the ruins of Pompeii, and surrealist images. Antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum include a calyx krater with depictions of the gods Orpheus and Eurydice, a cameo of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, an askos in the shape of a Siren, and a statuette of Eros and Psyche. The Poiriers also present a video shot in Sicily on the theme of the pursuit of departed souls, titled Gradiva: Delirio e Sogni (Gradiva: Delirium and Dreams), in which archeologist Hanold, as well as the figures of Orpheus, Eurydice, Pluto, and Freud all appear.

The second part of the gallery includes photographs, documents, manuscripts, and books representing Pompeii and Gradiva, Dante and the underworld, Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as references to mythological figures in modern art, archaeology, and psychoanalysis. The gallery also presents a "fictional" creation of an archaeologist’s room hung with framed photographs and prints from the Research Institute collections.

"The story of Gradiva, as retold by the Poiriers, suggests how art and art history share in this search to reconnect with the past, to bring it to life. Images and material culture exert a fascination over us precisely because their presence can be seen as the shimmering ‘afterlife’ of the past. The practice of art historians entails an immersion in the archive, seeking to revive the voices that would speak to them and animate the gazes that would stare back at them," said exhibition curator Charles Merewether, collections curator at the Getty Research Institute.

Anne and Patrick Poirier were born in Marseilles and Nantes, respectively, in 1942. The wife and husband team has worked together for over thirty years exhibiting their work throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia. They describe their art as "a slow voyage across the spaces of memory," drawing their inspiration from archaeology and architecture." From 1994-1995, the Poiriers served as artists-in-residence as part of the Getty Research Institute’s scholars program. Their particular scholar year was organized around the theme of "Memory." The Poiriers studied the subject of memory as a psychological, cultural, and historical practice and created a curiosity cabinet during that year, now in the collection of the Getty Research Institute.

The Getty Research Institute was invited by the French Consulate of Los Angeles to mount an exhibition featuring some aspect of French contemporary art as part of a series organized with various arts institutions along the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle. Côte Ouest is a collaboration among the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, French cultural groups and a broad range of West Coast arts organizations.

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