Gagosian is pleased to present Ekkyklema, an exhibition of new paintings and works on paper by Jenny Saville, opening at the Davies Street gallery in London on November 30. The project’s title refers to a wheeled platform that was used to move interior scenes into the audience’s view during antique productions of Greek tragic drama and alludes to the artist’s search for a pictorial language with which to confront our simultaneous occupation of material and screen-based worlds. Ekkyklema is also concerned with the moment and mystery of conception—a truly universal subject.
Saville’s new work was inspired in part by the giant digital display screens employed at stadiums and other major event venues, the scale and visual power of which generate an overwhelming, almost religious spectacle. Throughout the exhibition, the artist compartmentalizes body parts into angular screenlike panels whose hard edges and clustered arrangements recall desktop computing’s windows and menus and the boxed-in talking heads of news broadcasts. The artist evolved this pictorial system over the past year, focusing on our intersecting physical and electronic realities by combining figuration and abstraction. “I gave myself the challenge of feeling the ancient and digital worlds simultaneously,” she writes.
The reclining figures in Saville’s new paintings allude to the Greek mythological character of Danaë, whose child, it was prophesied, would kill his grandfather, Acrisius. Zeus visited the imprisoned Danaë in the form of a shower of gold, and from their union, Perseus was born—who later fulfilled the prediction. Rembrandt famously produced a monumentally scaled depiction of Danaë reclining on a bed and many other artists, including Titian, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Gustav Klimt, have also painted her. Saville drew the works’ palette from watercolor studies, produced over the past two years, of the changing light and colors of the Greek sky at sunset.
Finally, the works in Ekkyklema recall fragmented portraits by Pablo Picasso. The connection is an appropriate one since Saville made numerous studies in preparing the paintings—as Picasso did before working on paintings such as Guernica (1937). Her subjects are further complicated by active lines of intense color that suggest frenzied motion, while the compositions’ overlaid “screens” evoke the multiple perspectives characteristic of Cubism, interrupting her images of single and plural nude figures with partial views that offer fragmented glimpses of past, future, or alternative realities.
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