Saint Sebastian: Or A Splendid Readiness For Death
Artwork by Luigi Ontani, Paul Schrader, Louise Bourgeois, Chris Burden, Francesco Clemente, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Fiona Tan. Photographs by Catherine Opie, David Wojnarowicz. Text by Wolfgang Tillmans.
The cultural-historical starting point of Saint Sebastian: Or a Splendid Readiness For Death is found in Gabriele D'Annunzio's Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian: A Mystery in Five Acts, a musical play on which D'Annunzio collaborated with Debussy and in which the role of Saint Sebastian was taken by D'Annunzio's lover, the dancer Ida Rubenstein, whose transvestism in the role brought denunciations from the Church. But that is another story. Nevertheless, our Saint Sebastian is similarly arranged into five thematic focal points: Sebastian as the “exemplary sufferer” (Susan Sontag); as multifarious icon of the history of civilization; as saint, who attracts misfortune upon himself in order to avert it from others; as fetish of erotic subcultures; and as vamp and dandy, whose beauty only blossoms in its full splendor when caught in the throes of excruciating agony. A sixth thematic point sneaks in here, and Saint Sebastian is brought up to date as the great “ecstatician” of art history. Oh, and the art. Contemporary artists whose work is explored through the lens of Saint Sebastian include Ron Athey, Louise Bourgeois, Chris Burden, Francesco Clemente, Bavo Defurne, Kirby Dick & Bob Flanagan, Cerith Wyn Evans, Eikoh Hosoe, Derek Jarman, Adi Nes, Luigi Ontani, Catherine Opie, Ana Maria Pacheco, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Paul Schrader, Kishin Shinoyama, Fiona Tan, Wolfgang Tillmans, Joel-Peter Witkin and David Wojnarowicz.