Exhibiting Maguire’s Herakles: a dialogue between Old and New Worlds
In a series of etchings and lithographs entitled The Labours of Herakles (2006-7), contemporary New Zealand artist Marian Maguire takes a figure of Herakles inspired by Attic black-figure vase-painting and places him in scenes from nineteenth-century New Zealand. Not only is the protagonist ‘borrowed’, but various Attic vase shapes are referenced as well as some specific images, and there is the further conceptual borrowing of the idea of Herakles as archetypal coloniser. The prints’ witty comment on European colonisation has already been discussed in papers by other scholars and by the artist herself: what I explore here is the extra dimension added to the Old-New World dialogue, inherent in the prints themselves, when the series was exhibited at five venues on an international European tour (January 2015-November 2016), each venue displaying the prints alongside items from its own collection.
At Leeds City Museum the prints were on the walls of a dedicated exhibition space, surrounding other items in cases, including Maori items as well as antiquities, such as coins featuring Herakles and some Greek vases of appropriate shape. At the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology the prints were placed on walls interspersed with the regular collection, grouped thematically with particular casts of classical sculpture. At Munich’s Antikensammlung and Würzburg’s Martin von Wagner Museum the prints were juxtaposed to particularly fine collections of Greek vase-painting, including one or two of those specifically referenced in the series. At Belgium’s Musée royal de Mariemont, the prints were displayed in and around the classical antiquities room, some careful juxtapositions with a wide variety of media drawing attention to different aspects of the modern images. This chapter compares and contrasts the five exhibitions, exploring the dynamics of the prints’ interaction with the very different local collections. How did the diverse display contexts affect the viewing experience of the contemporary artworks? What, in turn, did the prints bring to the public reception of the local collections? And how well did any post-colonial political message travel back with Herakles to the northern hemisphere?