“A horrible and immense hole”, exclaimed a journalist from Le Figaro seeing the desolate aspect of the Louvre wall where weeks before had hung The Mona Lisa. After the robbery, the visits to the museum increased in such a way that the newspapers satirized about it: “some people like works of art by themselves, others by the place they occupy”, said a headline.
The Italian carpenter who, one summer morning in 1911, removed La Gioconda from the wall of the Louvre, and freeing it from its frame, hid the painting under his white operator’s coat, would (unwittingly) become something like the first conceptual artist.
Not because of the vandalism act itself, although at that time Marinetti encouraged people to burn museums and libraries, because after the theft the relations between pictures and frames, between the object and the place, they would not stop being problematic. The paintings began to break free of their frames.
It is one of the theories that the psychoanalyst Darian Leader develops in relating the black void that the stolen painting left on the wall (inducing this absence an unprecedented number of visitors) with a new way of understanding art, as a sublimated “emptiness”. Let us recall that only two years later Malevich would make his famous “black square” on white.
The disappearance of Leonardo’s painting also generated the dissemination of the iconic image, being reproduced in newspapers, films, cartoons … At the same time, “by losing the anchor that its frame symbolized”, the famous portrait began to appear in contemporary paintings as a “quote”, and the art of reappropriation is a practice that still exists today.
We could almost say that a dual phenomenon happened: the demystification of the painting (due to so many versions) and the sublimation of its spectrum.
Alexandra Laudo takes this essay by Leader (Stealing the Mona Lisa: what art stops us from seeing) as a starting point for a suggestive curatorial project with pieces from the CaixaForum collection. A certain darkness expresses the web of tensions that the art of the twentieth century has displayed between frame and image, content and continent, between what the work reveals and what it hides, at the same time that it moves us to analyze the scopic drive of the viewer.
On the one hand, pictorial exercises on the limits of representation (Perejaume, José Maldonado) propose the conversion of the painting as a world window (Renaissance model) on a “blind” and deceptive surface, without interior/exterior, or oscillating between the apparent literality of the support and a process of abstraction that offers alternative modes of vision to the ocular-centrism.
On the other, we see works that play hide-and-seek, such as Alice’s drawing hidden by pages pulled from Lewis Carroll’s novel, gilded to underscore the timeless essence of the imagination (Tim Rollins and K.O.S.); others encourage us to complete the image starting from fragments and veils (The submerged continents by Juan Francisco Isidro), and there are even works of art that are themselves wrappers, such as the “wrappings” of Christo and Jeanne Claude (here we can see some sketches to wrap the Monument to Columbus, a project never done).
Later, we find pieces that can be interpreted as an elegy or dirge to obsolete technologies, and while a new life is given to the obsolete apparatus is shown the essence of the cinematographic phenomenon (for example, seeing the light beams of the projectors without slides by Pedro Torres piece). Luminous essentiality means disappearance, as Hiroshi Sugimoto showed with his photographic series in which by matching the exposure time to the duration of the film he obtained blank screens.
Sugimoto made these photos in theaters halls converted into cinemas, raising questions about the perceptual changes that take place with each new technology. This topic always worried Godard, who affirmed that cinema is memory as much as television is oblivion, a thought that pervades his experimental film Éloge del amour (2004), of which the exhibition contains a brief scene.
Vandalism actions against works and monuments usually start with the eyes: the aggressor “disarm” them, argues Leader, to avoid the “evil eye”. All of us suffer a kind of archaic fear towards the eyes that can not see, like the portraits, a subject from which the Gothic literature brought good fruits.
Doing research of the Spanish anticlerical movements of the beginning of the last century, Pedro G. Romero realized similar aspects: in Archivo F.X. links iconoclastic actions (against sacred images) with the conceptual iconoclasm in artistic vanguards. One of the entries in his thesaurus, “les yeux”, is accompanied by a photo of a sculpture of Saint Bruno with the eyes torn out. Next to it, we can read some printed paragraphs of Romero essay En el ojo de la batalla (the title is a nod to Georges Bataille, for whom the eye was a sexual and sacrilege metaphor, a trope of the unrepresentable).
Laudo does not forget those artists who led the iconoclastic gesture, the destructive impulse, against their own creations. The exhibition only includes a flyer announcing a collective exhibition (Works to be destroyed,1977, New York), but with that we remember the New York atmosphere of the sixties: from the Self-Destructive Art proposed by Gustav Metzger to evade commodification and museographic mummification of his works, until other forms of anti-art or ephemeral art that emerged later.
In the age of the internet and visual exhaustion taken to the extreme, the self-inflicted iconoclasm is almost a matter of survival, tells us the “visual strike” of Ira Lombardía.
Another way to escape the art industry is opting for silence. Duchamp decided to abandon (in fact, he led us to believe that he abandoned) the world of art to devote himself to chess, so he could create without hearing public opinion and theoretical reflections.
But silence does not exist. In a similar way to how the absent Gioconda projected a plot of conjectures onto the empty space, Duchamp’s silence increased interest and questions about his work.
In the exhibition catalog, Laudo rescues Duchamp’s concept of Creation Act, for whom art is the gap between the idea and its materialization. The curator puts it in relation to the film Le quatrieme mur by Pol González Novell. In the CaixaForum exhibition, Pol’s film unfolds in its own “negative”: we find it first in its final version, and at the end of the layout exhibition, but semi-hidden, we discover it again, presenting the same length but showing us only the shots that had been discarded.
What is lost or is dismissed in the process, is it also art? Does it belong to the work in a latent form? Duchamp said it is, that in some way art also includes what is beyond language, evading representation.
Darian Leader asks a similar question about Leonardo’s painting while Vicenzo Peruggia kept it hidden in a trunk: did the artistic status of the piece change while it disappeared? Certainly not, art does not have to be visible.
The closing piece of the exhibition is a photograph by Martin Parr in which Mona Lisa “vanishes” behind multiple mobile screens, that today supply our eyes.
Only what is hidden can be revealed to us. The artistic experience would require “a certain darkness” to recover its revealing essence. This is what this exhibition is about, which, moreover, with its “vanishing points”, some pieces escape from the museum frame and slips through the city, inviting us to adopt the role of detectives in white gloves or explorers of dark basements.
Una cierta oscuridad, CaixaForum, Barcelona
curator: Alexandra Laudo
until 5th January 2019