Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to announce The Futility of Conquest, Liz Glynn’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. The first episode of an ambitious long-term research project, The Futility of Conquest investigates the contested history of the ancient Parthenon sculptures (often referred to as the Elgin marbles) from the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, in what the artist calls a “monument of collective return.” The Futility of Conquest is the latest endeavor in Glynn’s long trajectory of material exploration and conceptual mining of epic historical narratives, monumental architecture, and restitution/repatriation debates through large-scale installations, sculptural objects, and participatory performances.
In the exhibition, Glynn has created new works referencing the Parthenon’s sculptures and the history of their removal. By reinterpreting the Parthenon marbles through her intensive hand-crafted process of additive materiality, Glynn’s project addresses the complex histories of cultural property disputes, legacies of “copying,” and cycles of creation and destruction, empire and ruin. Bringing attention to the value of lost, looted, or destroyed cultural artifacts and economies, she critiques the ongoing colonializations of ancient and modern cultures. Glynn’s work often operates within the long legacy of sculptural copying or the reinterpretation of iconic archetypes.
For example, in this context, cultures such as the Roman Empire developed a taste for classical Greek antiquities and then created copies of the original Greek sculptures to place in their temples. By creating her own sculptural objects or “copies,” Glynn highlights the tricky distinctions between collective cultural work and “individual genius” and points to the complications of the life cycle of objects: What is considered art? What is considered trash, and when? What is use value vs. aesthetic value? What is looting vs. borrowing vs. appropriating? To expand on these questions, Glynn herself takes ancient forms and transforms them with new materials—such as ceramics, jesmonite, paper mache, resin—and processes—hand-sculpting, digital rendering, painting, etc.
One wall of the gallery features re-interpretations of the Parthenon’s frieze. The original low-relief Parthenon frieze panels depicted the Pan-Athenic festival procession held in honor of the goddess Athena, the city’s patron. The coarse materiality of Glynn’s panels—with individual faces frequently obliterated and other details degraded—recall the historical damage to the objects through their extraction and purported “conservation.” (Smoking was once allowed in the British Museum, and the panels were once cleaned with bleach, irreparably damaging the marble surface.) Missing sections are depicted in flat, sanded silhouette. Glynn has reconstructed the frieze in paper-crete while altering the imagery to depict fragments of the original being carried back in a hypothetical return to their site of origin. For example, Walk Back/Give Back (A Proposal for South Frieze Block XLI) (2023), depicts four figures clad in draped attire carrying a copy of the original Frieze panel.
The exhibition is punctuated by Glynn’s two new major sculptural installations on view—Toppled Zeus and Cavalcade (The Futility of Conquest). She depicts Zeus, the leader of the gods, as a fallen and dismembered figure, sprawled over the gallery floor. Glynn transforms the Greek sculptural tropes and inverts the notion of patriarchy and matriarchy with Zeus as the leader and Athena as the goddess of wisdom. The torso is rendered in ceramic at a monumental scale, while Zeus’s robes are sprawled across the chair and about the floor recalling the gestural expressionism of Hellenistic sculpture. The Zeus sculpture (which originally adorned the center of the lost Parthenon pediment) is the first object in what she envisions as a lengthy processional with sculptures of gods carrying back the stolen Parthenon marbles. Cavalcade takes its form from the many figures of horses found in the Parthenon marbles. Here Glynn materializes cycles of empire and ruin with a circular collision of horse legs referencing the lengthy—and circular—procession of horses around the Parthenon’s interior façade. Rather than processing toward victory, the horses collapse into themselves, underscoring the futility of colonialist expansion and incursions into foreign territory.
Background on the Parthenon Marbles Consisting of white marble frieze panels, metopes, and pediments carved and then subsequently painted and adorned, the Acropolis’s Parthenon temple’s rich sculptural decoration used the language of Greek myth to symbolize the role of Athens as ancient Greece’s leading city. The removal of these sculptures occurred in the early 1800s by the British aristocrat Lord Elgin, ostensibly with the permission of the rulers of Greece at that time, the Ottomans. The debate—ongoing for decades and recently more urgent as talks between the British Museum and Greece continue while the global consensus around repatriation has shifted—lies between the Greeks who view the marbles as looted treasure that is their national heritage and the British government and Museum who consider the “Elgin Marbles” legally acquired and safest in their care. This has become one of the most controversial cultural patrimony disputes and Glynn’s project addresses this complex history and explores what it means to engage with issues of repatriation, collectivity, and monumentality.
The artist would like to thank Andy Badillo, Jason Burns, Luis Moreno, Liz Stringer, and Devin Wilson for their assistance in the production of these works.
Liz Glynn (b. 1981) lives and works in Los Angeles. She received an MFA from CalArts in 2008 and a BA in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University in 2003. Her major permanent installation, Terra Techne, opened to the public in 2019 in the newly remodeled Harvey Milk Terminal at the San Francisco International Airport. Glynn’s recent solo exhibitions include The Archaeology of Another Possible Future, Mass MOCA, North Adams, MA (2017); Open House, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, The Public Art Fund, New York (2017) (travel; led to Boston in 2018); The Myth of Singularity, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2015); and RANSOM ROOM, SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY (2014); among many other installations and performances nationally. Recent group exhibitions include Ecstatic: Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2023); Working Thought, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA (2022); The American Scene, National Museum of Ceramics, Sevres, France (2019); Fiction, Bold Tendencies, London (2019); Sculpture Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI (2018); Manifesto: A moderate proposal, Pitzer College Art Galleries, Claremont, CA (2018); Objects Like Us, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2018); and many others. Her work is in the collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Foundation Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy; the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.