Charles Ray: Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog
For his first project in Rome, Charles Ray presents an exhibition and two public lectures on May 17-18, 2017, at the American Academy in Rome. The exhibition includes a new work, which will be exhibited here for the first time, the result of the artist’s profound reflection upon classical sculpture, including several important examples in the Capitoline Museums. In the two lectures, Ray will discuss the ideas that inform his radical reconfiguration of models from antiquity to investigate aspects of American society.
The exhibition features a new sculpture, Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog (2017), and an earlier work, Shoe Tie (2012), which reconfigure classical models and transpose them to the contemporary United States.
The project is the culmination of an ongoing series of events at the American Academy in Rome entitled “American Classics.” In the spirit of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869), in which America’s mythologies about itself are brought into critical relief in an encounter with Europe, the exhibition and lectures consider the enduring currency of antiquity in the contemporary world.
In both Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog (2017) and Shoe Tie (2012), Ray plays with the conventions defining the canons of classical sculpture. In the former, he revisits the famous sculptural group Lion Attacking a Horse (Greek, 325-300 B.C.; restored in Rome in 1594) from the Capitoline Museums, converting the naturalistic scene of primal violence, among the most storied works of art to survive from antiquity, into an American vernacular. In Ray’s hands, the animal group in the Capitoline, an icon of Rome much admired by Michelangelo Buonarroti, is transposed to an American wilderness encroached upon and compromised by urban sprawl.
For many years, Ray has hiked in the Santa Monica Mountains, a coastal range in Southern California. Bound by major traffic arteries and some of the most densely settled areas of the United States, the Santa Monica range hosts a dwindling population of Mountain lions, a vestige of the legendary American frontier, struggling to survive in a habitat too isolated and too small to sustain it. Inspired by these pre-dawn walks, Shoe Tie, which recalls a Hellenistic bronze also from the Capitoline Museums, Boy with Thorn, also called Spinario, is a naked self-portrait of Ray crouching down, as if to retie his laces. In doing so, he leaves himself vulnerable to Mountain lions who attack the exposed necks of their prey.
Charles Ray is the Deenie Yudell Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome during the month of May, 2017.