For the past decade, Elliott Hundley (b. 1975), a multimedia artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, has drawn inspiration from art history, classical Greek mythology, drama, and philosophy. This exhibition, inspired by the ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripides, featured a recent painting, epic-sized bulletin-board collages, and mixed-media sculptures that formed an immersive theatrical environment. Although the play was first performed around 406 BC, Hundley’s interests were rooted in the present as much as in the past.
The Bacchae is a tale of familial betrayal and divine revenge set in the ancient city of Thebes. The god Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans) decides to punish the city’s people when they refuse to accept his claim that he is the son of Zeus. After bringing the women of Thebes under his influence, Dionysus leads them out of the city and into the wilderness where they join his followers, the Bacchae, in worshipping him in ecstatic rituals. The god then convinces the king of Thebes, Pentheus, to spy on the women, who, upon discovering him, mistake him for a wild beast. Led by Pentheus’s own mother, Agave, the women rip the king limb from limb, killing him in the process. Agave then returns to Thebes, carrying her son’s head as a trophy, still unaware of her delusion. When Dionysus’s influence on her finally loosens, she is horrified to discover that she has murdered her own son.
Hundley conceived his mixed-media collages as theatrical landscapes. First orchestrating photo shoots with friends and family members who posed as characters from the Greek drama, he then used the resulting photographs as the underlying basis of large-scale, multi-panel compositions. From these, he built out layers upon layers of additional images and materials, such as smaller versions of the photographs and strings of letters spelling out passages from Euripides’s text. Large freestanding sculptures accompanied these striking wall reliefs; like the reliefs, they took inspiration from passages in Euripides’ play and became essential figures in Hundley’s fictive world, inhabiting both the environments of the photographs and the exhibition installation.
Through his fascination with the destructive collision of the organized culture of the city of Thebes and the frenzy of the Bacchae’s rituals, Hundley explored the boundaries between reason and chaos. His works also dealt with universal themes like justice, violence, pleasure, and grief, which remain central to contemporary life.
Elliott Hundley: The Bacchae was organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University and made possible by a significant contribution from Battelle. Generous support for this exhibition was also provided by The Broad Art Foundation and Lonti Ebers, New York.
Local support generously provided by Nancy A. Nasher & David J. Haemisegger and Marion and Nash Flores.