Reflections on Cupid and Psyche at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin College Museum of Art Student Curatorial Assistant Maggie Bryan '15 at the Boyd Gallery entrance.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art Student Curatorial Assistant Maggie Bryan ’15 at the Boyd Gallery entrance.

 

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art has opened three exhibitions exploring mythological themes in classical Greek mythology. Hendrick Goltzius: Mythology and Truth and Weaving the Myth of Psyche: Baroque Tapestries from the Wadsworth Atheneum are on view until the beginning of March 2015, and Alison de Vere’s short film, Psyche and Eros (1994) can be seen through the end of this year.

Maggie Bryan ’15, student curatorial assistant at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, worked with curator Joachim Homann and shares her insights on the exhibitions.

At this point, it seems like something of a cliché to credit an exhibition with “making art come to life”; however, there really is no better way to describe Weaving the Myth of Psyche: Baroque Tapestries from the Wadsworth Atheneum, currently on view in the Boyd Gallery at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Intricately woven in the seventeenth century, the five tapestries tell the story of the tumultuous romance between Cupid and Psyche, an amour that is temporarily thwarted by the jealous goddess Aphrodite. The story is not complete, as today several of the tapestries from the original series are unaccounted for. Fortunately, a screening of Psyche and Eros, (1994) by Alison de Vere, plays on a half hour loop in the Rotunda, visible just through the doors of the Boyd Gallery.

"Psyche's Banquet," ca. 1660. Wool, silk, and gold thread. Courtesy of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

“Psyche’s Banquet,” ca. 1660. Wool, silk, and gold thread. Courtesy of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

De Vere’s gorgeously ethereal, yet simultaneously very human film not only provides a contemporary recounting of the myth for visitors, but it also brings a congruent element to the exhibit. Whether you first walk into the Rotunda or the Boyd Gallery, you are entering an immersive experience that will carry you from one gallery into the next without being conscious of having moved. The larger-than-life tapestry figures pop from warm walls the color of strawberry balsamic gelato, almost an extension of De Vere’s rose-tinged world in the next room. Likewise, as Cupid and Psyche fly off the screen in the final scene of the film, the line between reality and myth blurs, and it is difficult to say whether they are escaping through the dome of the Rotunda or flying through the door on the right to take their place within the tapestries.

Of course, if Cupid actually were to fly into the next gallery, he would have no place to go, as he is not featured in any of the surviving tapestry scenes. As a homage to the absent character, a display case has been set up in the Boyd Gallery that contains artifacts from antiquity depicting Cupid—objects that range from an amphora shard to a small free standing sculpture.

As a student curatorial assistant at the Museum this year, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in much of the preparation for the exhibition. I saw the empty strawberry balsamic walls in all their splendor before the tapestries had been hung. I screened British animator Alison de Vere’s Psyche and Eros on a computer in the Museum offices several weeks before the projector was installed upstairs in the Rotunda. I even watched the first tapestry being unrolled by the preparators. Of course, none of these behind-the-scenes moments prepared me for the full effect of the final exhibition.

Flanked by an arrangement of Greek and Roman antiquities from the permanent collection in the Walker Gallery and some majestic, mythically-themed engravings in the Hendrick Goltzius show next door (including a large print of The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche), the addition of the Psyche exhibition adds an unprecedented level of cohesion to the upper level of the museum. It is a surreal sensory experience, walking from gallery to gallery, seeing a range of media and time periods all seeking to tackle intertwining themes – perhaps an impression inspired by the ever media-conscious Richard Tuttle downstairs. The second floor has become almost a tapestry itself, in which each gallery is a sparkling thread. I intend to enter this world of Psyche again soon, and encourage all those who haven’t yet to do the same.

Read more about the exhibitions.

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