Zohra Opoku: The Palace at 4am

Zohra Opoku: The Palace at 4am

This contemporary art exhibition is inspired by the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos and takes its title from an iconic work by Alberto Giacometti. The Palace at 4 a.m. is a small wooden sculpture he created in 1932; like a theatre it features a dramatic encounter between a woman, a bird and a spinal column. Presiding over these protagonists is a totemic entity. The scene is a palace before sunrise, a time of dreams, ghosts and secret assignations.

Curated by Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director, Whitechapel Gallery and Elina Kountouri, Director, NEON, the exhibition draws on the strange drama of Giacometti’s masterpiece to evoke the spirits, rituals and myths that haunt ancient archaeological sites such as Delos. The island’s statues, architectural fragments, vessels and tombstones collected in the museum are attributes of a cosmopolitan citizenry that disappeared two millennia ago. Just as Delos once brought together people from across the ancient world, The Palace at 4 a.m. features a global roster of 13 artists such as Lynda Benglis; Haris Epaminonda; Simone Fattal; Petrit Halilaj; Ian Law; Maria Loizidou; Daria Martin; Duro Olowu; Zohra Opoku; Rena Papaspyrou; Stefania Strouza; Barthélémy Toguo and Paloma Varga Weisz. 

Their work is juxtaposed with the museum’s collection and additional treasures selected by the archaeologists of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades. Like a theatre curtain a monumental decorative drape newly commissioned from by Duro Olowu, which combines the richly decorated textiles from northern and southern hemispheres, provides the overture to the exhibition. An installation of artefacts – both platonic and erotic – has been composed by Haris Epaminonda. Simone Fattal presents her haiku-like ceramics evoking classical ruins and monsters; while Rena Papaspyrou magically transforms contemporary detritus into archaeological fragments. Ian Law enters the hallowed confines of the museum vitrine with votive figures that incorporate the ashes of the dead. 

In the central gallery Paloma Varga Weisz pitches a beautifully carved contemplative female figure from the heavens; she is suspended in drapery that recalls the Baroque. Below her are two powerfully gestural ceramics, evoking landscape and habitat by renowned painter Lynda Benglis. Giacometti’s work is evoked by Daria Martin’s film In the Palace where she reconstructed his tiny sculpture as a full-scale stage set for a group of performers who take up the poses and gestures of avant garde Modernism. A spiral map of fragments by Stefania Strouza is arranged according to the wandering of Zeus’ lover Leto across the islands of the Aegean, in a shrine to female goddesses. 

In another wing of the museum the towering porcelain vessels of Barthélémy Toguo use delicate glazes to depict the deathly iconography of the virus in African society. Opposite hang self-portraits screened on Ghanaian textiles by Zohra Opoku her image metamorphosing from her botanical environment. Where the museum offers a retirement home for the vessels of antiquity, Petrit Halilaj brings resembled fragments of Neolithic pottery back to life by turning them into birds for whom he has constructed two nests. Elsewhere he has installed the museum conservationist’s deadliest enemy – a giant moth is suspended from the museum’s ceiling, a metaphor for all those who can only reveal themselves under cover of night. 

In the museum garden Maria Loizidou has suspended a huge pelt handwoven from a stainless-steel mesh, remnant of an entity that has either been hunted and skinned; or sloughed off its own skin to live again. 

The Palace at 4 a.m. runs until October 31, 2019, is organized and commissioned by NEON and presented in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades.

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