It is vital to know our past in order to understand the present. As we already know, ancient history still affects the contemporary world, and more especially, it speaks of how humankind remains (almost) the same despite technological developments, the evolution of socio-economic systems, and the milestones we’ve achieved  over the millennia. Bridging past and present and speaking of all these questions, we find Philip Colbert’s exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN), Italy, titled The House of the Lobster. If you ever wondered what the mosaics in Pompeii or classical sculptures like The Head of Medusa might look like today, you’ve come to the right place.
But you might also wonder: what is the Scotland-born, London-based artist’s work doing in such a place? If you’re not familiar with his work, let me tell you that it’s as if the characters in Spongebob Squarepants took acid and came to the surface to inhabit our galleries and museums. His oeuvre is characterised for its pop culture references, its use of bright colours, and an overarching sense of humour. Taking all of these elements, Philip Colbert has been invited by MANN to reinterpret some of the most historical pieces in the museum’s collection. The result is a solo show that welcomes visitors as they enter the venue, right on the ground floor, and also extending through its gardens.
The starting point of The House of the Lobster was a mosaic found in Pompeii featuring a central battle between a lobster, moray eel, and octopus. From here, Colbert has traced the significance of lobsters (his most recognisable leitmotiv) in art history (think Dalí, Schiaparelli, or Andy Warhol, for example) while also touching upon themes such as conflict, death, and the cyclical nature of existence. As he explains, “On my first visit to MANN, I was blown away by the mosaic. After studying historical battle scene paintings over many years, I was suddenly struck by the profound influence that mosaics like this had on artists such as Rubens. Its epic scale reset my understanding of the great battle painting. I was challenged with a work that was grand in scale, complex in composition, and exquisite in detail.”
On view until April 1st, the fun, colourful, and beautiful exhibition by Colbert invites visitors to rethink our past, present and future through his lobster-filled paintings and sculptures. Delving into the rich archive collection of the museum, Philip has drawn upon some epic battles in ancient history, like the triumph of Alexander the Great over Darius III of Persia. In the words of Massimo Osanna, Director General of the Museums of the Ministry of Culture, “Colbert’s works, in fact, are an act of love towards our cultural roots, which take us back to antiquity.”