January 17 – July 23, 2017
Violent destruction by human hands and degradation by air pollution have transformed the Parthenon east and north metope relief sculptures into ephemeral and evocative images, hinting at ancient mythological battles. These metopes, or marble panels, were located above the columns of the Parthenon where they would have been readily visible on the Athenian Acropolis throughout antiquity. Today, the original metopes are displayed in the new Acropolis Museum.
Beginning in 2005, the American art historian and archaeologist Katherine A. Schwab (b. 1954) experimented with graphite and pastel to record her observations of the metopes. A tension emerges between what is preserved and what has been lost, creating a theme of presence within absence. The narratives of the Giants defeated by the Olympian Gods and the Sacking of Troy are again recreated at each viewing.
Schwab’s drawings arise from the intersection of artistic ability and archaeological expertise, revealing new observations and discoveries about these two metopes series. Her experiments with brown pastel pencil and graphite, to develop the negative ground, highlight visible forms that emerge as if suspended in an imagined space.
The exhibition begins with sixteen drawings of the east metopes, where the theme is the Olympian Gods fighting the Giants for supremacy of Mount Olympus. Variation in tone and depth are explored, ranging from the darkest tones to soft and light fleeting shapes. One reconstruction drawing shows Schwab’s proposal for East metope 14 where Helios drives a chariot above Okeanos signaling victory.
The exhibition continues with twelve graphite drawings of the north metopes, illustrating the Sacking of Troy. Schwab’s use of graphite in these drawings reflects the vagaries of the surviving carved surfaces. In some the maximum depth is preserved, allowing the viewer to readily imagine the missing fragments. Elsewhere, the figures are elusive, requiring the viewer to look carefully, contemplating the poses and actions evoked. The final section includes drawings of figures and details from the Parthenon frieze and pediments.