Cultured Culture and Radiant Eroticism: Gloeden’s Bacchus and Takis’ Saint Sebastian

I missed My Sweet Country, the series of performances by Prinz Gholem at the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Odeion of Agrippa in the Agora. However, I was luck enough to meet someone in Athens who had been there and she sent me some photographs and videos she took of their performances, such as the following:

In their interview in the issue of Mousse dedicated to documenta 14, Prinz Gholam quote Roland Barthes’ 1978 essay on the photographs of Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 – 1931) – some of which were shown at Documenta 6 in 1977. In this quotation, Barthes describes how von Gloeden’s photographs of naked Sicilian boys amid pastoral landscapes and ruined monuments, with props of wreaths and amphorae as taking ‘overloading’ the ‘code of antiquity’. At the same time, he praises von Gloeden’s bravery and that of others, including Sade and Klossowski, for:

mixing the most ‘cultural’ culture with the most radiant eroticism.

At the end of my Athenian friend’s brief video, the artist on the left of the frame (I am not sure if it is Wolgang Prinz or Michel Gholam) stands up and raises his arms and crosses them in the air, mirroring the crossed arms behind the back of his partner. This pose seems to recall that of iconic images, not of Greek antiquity, but of the Christian figure of Saint Sebastian. Looking through Gloeden’s photographs, I found one of this very subject:

At the same time, this reference reminded me of a work by the Greek sculpture Takis, whose work was also shown at Documenta 6 in 1977 and which is depicted in William E. Jones’ new film , currently part of his exhibition at the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles: Fall into Ruin. At the end of his film (comprising completely of stills and a voice over by the artist) about the collector and gallerist Alexander Iolas and the tragic story of his house and its incredible art collection destroyed and looted after his death, Jones shows a series of photographs that he took when he visited Iolas in 1982. These photographs are included in the Kordansky exhibition and here is the Takis work:

This startling and provocative depiction of the arrow-wounded body of Saint Sebastian with an impressive erection demonstrated Iolas’ taste for the erotic and the cultured. There is a photograph in the Foundation Alexandre Iolas Archive that shows Iolas with Niki de Saint Phalle and others, admiring and smiling at Takis’ work:

At the moment that the sculpture is shown in Jones’ film, his voice over seems to intuit this kind of response to the work as playful, but maps it onto Iolas himself:

Throughout his live Iolas led people to believe that he was a frivolous person. This was a distraction that allowed him to do whatever he wanted. He had the courage to make unfashionable decisions and remained loyal to the artists he exhibited.

This statement about Iolas has the same tenor as Barthes’ about Gloeden’s bravery in mixing the Classical and contemporary eroticism. In fact, it is Gloeden who can help us make sense of the peculiar pose of Takis’ Saint Sebastian, not standing with his hands above his head, but sitting, with his hands at his side. Could the following photograph of Bacchus have been the inspiration for Takis’ Saint Sebastian?

While this cannot be proved and may be unlikely given that the edition of Gloeden’s works appeared in 1978 and Takis’ work was finished in 1974, I like to think of both Iolas, later leafing through the Gloeden’s photographs (very much like Prinz Gholam) and showing visitors to his villa the exquisite parallel between the pose of this Bacchus on his barrel and his Saint Sebastian on a ball. I will be seeing works by Takis in the in Kassel as part of ANTIDORON: Works from the EMST Collection and it will give me a chance to ponder what it would have been like to have been there back in 1977 at Documenta 6, the exhibition famous for its emphasis on new media, and seeing works by Takis and Gloeden in the same exhibition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *