For his first museum solo exhibition, Los Angeles-based sculptor Sean Townley was drawn to molds produced by conservators to aid in preserving two ancient sculptures from the MFA’s collection. Collaborating with Museum staff, Townley created fragmentary copies of the two masterworks: the bust of Prince Ankhhaf from Egypt’s Old Kingdom and the monumental Roman Juno. In doing so, Townley has crafted new, original works of contemporary art using technologies designed to create copies and reconstruct losses. Reproduced in multiples in Townley’s studio and displayed in lines to stress the repetition of forms, the sculptures 7 Diadems and Red Ankhhafs reference a moment in the mid-20th century when artists began to create their work industrially rather than making it themselves. Their installation mirrors that of the ancient works in another wing across the museum—as if Townley’s works were extensions of the originals, and his studio practice an extension of the work the Museum does to preserve them.
One of the world’s oldest sculpted portraits, the bust of Prince Ankhhaf was originally created as place where the spirit of the depicted could reside following his death. Townley sees his sculptures as one way to continue such an embodiment, focusing on how we experience the essence of this work thousands of years later. In ancient Roman art, a diadem is a symbol of sovereignty that adorns sculptures of royalty or gods—an object that is difficult to examine when featured on a monument so tall. Townley’s floor-based work grants the reverse perspective of Juno’s head and diadem, or crown, showcasing how the Museum is a forum for multiple viewpoints on art history.
Above: 1. Sean Townley, 7 Diadems, 2016. Cast aluminum. Photo by Jeff Mclane. Courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery. 2. Sean Townley, Red Ankhhafs, 2016. Powder-coated cast aluminum. Courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery.