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The Ancient Greek Island of Delos Gets Its First Contemporary Art Installation

Source: smithsonianmag.com

By Brigit Katz

The tiny island of Delos offers an exceptionally rich window into the world of the ancient Greeks. Visitors can roam among the sanctuaries, theaters and opulent homes that harken back to the island’s long history as a religious, political and commerical center, which thrived from around the 8th century B.C. to the days of the Romans. Today, the entire island, which measures just 1.3 square miles, is an archaeological site. But rare touches of modernism have now come to Delos. As Hakim Bishara reports for Hyperallergic, the British contemporary artist Antony Gormley has installed a series of sculptures across the island, marking the first time in 5,000 years that Delos has been home to new artworks.

Titled SIGHT, the installation features 29 of Gormley’s signature “bodyforms”—life-size sculptures that the artist largely creates based on casts of his own body. Five were commissioned specifically for the Delos installation. The sculptures can now be found perched among the site’s temples, agoras, theaters and rocky outcrops that look out onto the sea.

The Greek Archaeological Council unanimously approved Gormley’s installation, and Demetrios Athanasoulis, head of the department of antiquities in the Cyclades, tells the Guardian’s Helena Smith that he hopes SIGHT will help modern visitors engage with the ancient topography in new ways. “To be limited to the academic reading of any site’s historical significance is rather old-fashioned,” he says.

But bringing SIGHT to the history-laden island was not a simple process. Delos was sacred to the ancient Greeks, who believed it to be the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. During the classical period, the island served as the headquarters of the Delian League, a military alliance of ancient Greek states. After it was declared a free port in 167 B.C., Delos also blossomed as a major commercial hub. The site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Monument, and it took 18 months for Athanasoulis and his colleagues to formulate a plan for installing the sculptures in a way that would not cause damage to the archaeology.