- The Labours of Herakles Exhibition
An international touring exhibition, associated with Stage 2 of the Hercules project, was based on the work of contemporary New Zealand artist Marian Maguire. Her series of prints The Labours of Herakles (12 lithographs and 8 etchings) superimposes an ancient Greek image of Herakles onto nineteenth-century New Zealand landscapes, wittily casting the hero as a European colonist. The work was discussed on the last day of the 2013 Hercules: a Hero for all Ages conference, with a presentation by the artist herself. The tour visited a variety of venues in the UK and continental Europe. The composition of the exhibition varied from place to place, as each venue displayed the prints alongside items from its own collections.
The exhibition has been presented in Leeds City Museum (23 January-15 March 2015), Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology (17 April-15 August 2015), Munich’s Antikensammlungen (16 September-13 December 2015), Würzburg’s Martin von Wagner Museum (22 January-22 May 2016) and Belgium’s Musée Royal de Mariemont (24 September-20 November 2016).
Widely exhibited in New Zealand 2008-12, the exhibition launched in the UK in early 2015 at Leeds City Museum (23 January-15 March 2015).
Here Marian’s prints were displayed alongside a selection of coins and other antiquities from the Leeds collection, putting them into the context of a 2,500-year-old tradition of reinterpretations of the hero. In addition, The museum’s New Worlds collection supplied Maori artefacts, including a pounami (jade) axe-head and examples of the distinctive tewhhatewha (fighting staff) held by Maori leaders in several of the prints.
The Leeds City Museum exhibition was accompanied by a series of talks by Dr Emma Stafford (University of Leeds), who discussed the prints and the images from which they take their inspiration: ‘Introducing Herakles’, ‘Herakles the Coloniser’, and ‘Herakles the Politician’. The first two of these talks are available in our Resources area, under Art.
The next stop on the tour was the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology (17 April-15 August 2015). Here the prints were set against the atmospheric backdrop of the museum’s casts of classical Greek sculpture. These include a number featuring our hero, notably the massive Farnese Herakles and some of the metopes from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (c.460 BCE), which was the first building in ancient Greece to depict Herakles performing the canonical Twelve Labours.
In May Dr Emma Stafford delivered the talk ‘Herakles the New Zealand Pioneer: an ancient Greek hero reflects on colonialism’. From May to August a series of children’s workshops engaged younger viewers with the exhibition.
Next the prints went to Munich’s Antikensammlungen (16 September-13 December 2015), where they were juxtaposed with the museum’s particularly fine collection of Greek vases, including many which feature Herakles.
In addition to the Labours of Herakles prints, there were several from Marian Maguire’s earlier series The Odyssey of Captain Cook, which again combine Greek myth and references to Greek art with a colonial theme.
Just after the opening there were talks on the prints by Prof. Elizabeth Rankin (Auckland) and Marian Maguire herself. A new edition of the catalogue The Labours of Herakles accompanies the exhibition, including an introduction by Prof. Rolf Schneider (Munich) and Prof. Elizabeth Rankin’s essay ‘Marian Maguire’s Mythology: imag(in)ing antiquity in Aotearoa New Zealand’.
The prints were on show at Würzburg’s Martin von Wagner Museum (22 January-May 2016). Here they were exhibited in the Graphische Sammlung, alongside some of the Art Gallery’s collection of eighteenth-century paintings as well as a selection of beautiful vases from the Antikensammlung. All of the vases shown here are Attic black-figure amphoras, from the sixth century BCE, featuring Herakles performing one or another of his famous Labours.
At the opening, there were talks by Dr Jochen Griesbach (Director of the Antikensammlung) on ‘Herakles and the ancient roots of western values’, by Dr Eckhard Leuschner (from the University of Würzburg’s Institut für Kunstgeschichte) on ‘Transcultural Hercules: the art-historical perspective’, and by Dr Emma Stafford on the prints themselves.
Once again, in addition to the Labours of Herakles prints, there were several from Maguire’s earlier series The Odyssey of Captain Cook.
For an interview with Emma Stafford about Marian Maguire’s work – and a vase by the Berlin Painter – see Manchester Museum’s Thematic Collecting blog (April 2015) for a print summary of the interview and this page for the video interviews.
The tour concluded at the Musée Royal de Mariemont in southwest Belgium (24 September-20 November 2016). Héraclès chez les Maoris displayed the prints in the museum’s Mediterranean World rooms, alongside the Greek sculpture and vases of the permanent collection. In October Emma Stafford attended a private viewing of the exhibition for the New Zealand Ambassador to Belgium, who was intrigued to find his own country featuring amidst the museum’s displays of other cultures.
There were some nice juxtapositions throughout the exhibition, making thematic and visual links between the ancient and modern artworks.
The museum’s collection includes a fine late archaic Greek vase depicting the same sort of image of Herakles as the prints.
The prints have now returned to New Zealand, where Marian Maguire’s work can be seen at PG Gallery 192 in Christchurch and Bowen Galleries in Wellington. The works exhibited in our exhibition can be viewed online through Marian Maguire’s own website and purchased through the galleries noted above.
However, it will soon be possible to see the prints from our exhibition again in the UK, since the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich has recently purchased complete sets of both the Labours of Herakles and The Odyssey of Captain Cook series. Watch this space for news!