“It’s a challenge to embrace Wagner as a human being, not as hard to embrace him as an artist,” says Elizabeth Peyton, whose new solo exhibition of works inspired by the composer’s Ring cycle was seen in Gallery Met in the 2010-11 season. “He was awful in so many ways but had such epic creativity. To make a narrative so transcendent is a gigantic feat, and the music is mind-blowing.”

Peyton’s exhibition, simply titled Wagner, was the second in a series of four Ring-inspired shows in Gallery Met between 2010 and 2012. The exhibitions coincided with Robert Lepage’s new Ring production. “I chose Elizabeth for this project because she’s not only one of the strongest artists of her generation, but she has an uncanny ability to say something new about historical figures through her portraits,” says Gallery Met director Dodie Kazanjian. “It seemed like the Ring might open another door to her imaginative thinking.”

Known for her small but vibrant portraits of such figures as Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Prince William, and Michelle Obama, among others, Peyton was a newcomer to opera when she was approached to create work for the Met. But an immersion in Wagner recordings helped her realize the new pieces. “I listened to the Ring a lot while I was making the pictures for the show, along with Tristan und Isolde and Tannhäuser —I was listening to the new Kanye West record a bit too,” says the artist, whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. “There is a sound of human emotions that Wagner captures that is so heartbreaking. I was thinking about that a lot, about the power of being able to express those kinds of feelings
in art.” —Matt Dobkin

 

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A companion piece to the show, the etching Brunhilde and Wotan, 2010 (pictured above) depicts a moment from Die Walküre’s third act, when Wotan, lord of the gods, bids farewell to his Valkyrie daughter.
Etching in sepia ink on Magnani Pescia Soft White, 12x8.875 inches (30.5x22.5 cm)

Wagner was on display in Gallery Met in the 2010-11 season.

This article was first published online in January 2011 and in the Met's Playbill in February 2011.