Cammie Staros: House of the Muses

September 24 – December 16, 2022

Referencing Greco-Roman antiquities and their museological display, House of the Muses approximates a museal landscape in a state of decay. Suggesting a post-human future, the installation alludes to failed historical and contemporary empires that have, through hubris, enacted widespread devastation socially, politically, and ecologically. In Staros’ universe, vitrines modeled on those found in the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art become life-supporting aquariums for freshwater fish and aquatic plants. Providing shelter and diversion for the fish, Staros’ Grecian-style amphorae are playfully distorted versions of their historical counterparts. Portals to the past and future, each aquatic vitrine functions as an artifact alternately buried and revealed by the dramatic impact of human discard and climatic transition. 

Reflecting on the past as a means to project into the future is articulated by the twinning of objects to resemble mirrored images. This doubling is apparent in two pairs of works involving Grecian-style urns. In the vitrines, a symmetrical upright vase placed on top of an inverted and undulant one gives the impression of an amphora and its watery reflection. To reinforce this visual pun, the display cases are only half submerged, the waterline at the point where the two vases meet. In other work, one pair of free-standing amphorae embellished with a contrasting black and grey pattern is stacked mouth to mouth with a pitted marble sphere balanced between them. It is echoed by another set of vessels stacked foot to foot. This latter pair are made from red clay and patterned with both a fine meshwork motif and a second network of breaks repaired with silver. Further entangling these two netted halves are delicate chain spiderwebs creeping over the vessels’ surfaces, suggesting that these human artifacts, like those in the vitrines, have been repurposed by the nonhuman. 

House of the Muses—a title born of Greek mythology and translated from a Latin synonym of museum—highlights the role that Encyclopedic museums play in the construction of histories and cultural narratives by alluding to ancient artifacts and the exhibitionary procedures used in their display. While evocative of classical civilizations before their fall, the exhibition calls attention to the inevitable collapse and fragility of such empires, past, present, and future. Staros’ construction of museal ruin overrun by natural forces asks us to consider the fate of our own civilization, our impact on the planet, and the legacy and futurity of the human species.

About the artist:

Cammie Staros (b. 1983, Nashville, TN; lives and works in Los Angeles) received an MFA in Art from the California Institute of the Arts and a BA in Art and Semiotics from Brown University. The artist’s hand-built objects marry ancient ceramic techniques with modern industrial materials. Mining images and artifacts from the Greco-Roman period, which aestheticized eroticism, violence, and victory, Staros anthropomorphizes her sculptures through references to armor and dress—often a gendered divide—as traditionally depicted on Greek figure vases. Her fascination with classical antiquities lies both in the objects themselves and with how those objects represent an origin story of Western art history. Contributing her own symbology of references from far-flung regions and eras, Staros entices her audiences to reexamine the role of historical objects. With her ceramic sculptures, the artist considers the representation of desire, violence, gender codes, and institutional tropes of the display, all embedded in the materials and images of antiquity.

Staros has had solo exhibitions at Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles; Lefebvre & Fils, Paris; and Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles. Her work was presented in the 2020 Clay Biennial at the Craft Contemporary Museum in Los Angeles, and she was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship award in 2020.

Curator:

Cammie Staros: House of the Muses is curated by Ciara Ennis, Director and Curator of Pitzer College Art Galleries. Ennis received a PhD in Cultural Studies and Museum Studies from Claremont Graduate University and an MA in Visual Arts Administration, Curating, and Commissioning Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London.


Exhibition
Sept. 24 – Dec. 16, 2022
Pitzer College Art Galleries: Nichols Gallery

Reception
Saturday, September 24, 1 – 3 p.m.
Pitzer College Art Galleries


Visit

Pitzer College Art Galleries are open to visitors Tuesday – Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00 pm.

The Galleries will close for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 3:00 pm and will re-open for regular hours Tuesday, Nov. 29.