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A Neoclassical abduction

Eve Sussman brings 'Rape of the Sabine Women' to a new era -- and a new audience on the West Coast.

May 28, 2008|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- New York artist Eve Sussman grabbed the spotlight at the 2004 Whitney Biennial with a video re-creation of Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez's 1656-57 masterpiece, "Las Meninas." Two years later she released a much more ambitious work -- an operatic, five-act video inspired by Jacques-Louis David's 1799 painting "Intervention of the Sabine Women."

And now, two years after its New York opening, "The Rape of the Sabine Women" is having its West Coast premiere. The 80-minute work -- shot in Greece and Germany and created from 140 hours of video footage and 6,000 photographs -- is being shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at 3 p.m. Fridays through June 27. A Los Angeles venue has yet to be found.

Sussman, a petite woman with a wiry build, explosive hair and a rapid-fire style of conversation, said she planned to reenact the David painting but eventually decided to explore the entire myth.

The French artist focused on the moment when Sabine women, who had been stolen by neighboring Romans to populate their all-male city, stop a battle between their Roman husbands and Sabine avengers. Sussman, who worked with the Rufus Corp., an artistic collaborative that produces her projects, follows the story from the founding of Rome through the tribal combat, which took place after forced marriages had produced families.

She replaces the classical happy ending, about the founding of an empire, with a scene of destruction and desolation. And instead of telling the tale with dialogue, she enhances the pictures with an original score by Jonathan Bepler. She also gives a familiar art historical subject a decidedly new look.

"We updated the myth to the 1960s in a sort of allegory where the Romans are cast as G-men in suits and skinny ties, sort of power-broker types," she says. "The women are cast as butchers' daughters. The abduction takes place in a real meat market in Athens. And the heyday of Rome, after the abduction, is implied in a very affluent summer house on the Aegean. And then everything falls apart."

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suzanne.muchnic@latimes.com

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