A Story of the Image – Old and New Masters from Antwerp
National Museum 14.08 – 04.10, 2009
This exhibition actually reminds me a fair bit of Biennale 2008. I don’t really have opinions about most of the exhibits although some have caught my eye and some made me go ‘huh?’ and some made me vehemently convinced that I could be an artist.
Of all, I was particularly taken with two exhibits.
Room 9: Helena’s Sculpture, 2007 by Vaast Colson
I’ll start with the title. Helena’s Sculpture. Firstly, by appearance, this is a sculpture of sorts, an installation. It takes up physical space on flat ground, affords movement around it for the viewer to see every side hidden from a rigid standpoint. (omg you know what, if I really do become an artist, I’ll pull the usual artistic inscrutability and demand that my 2D painting be placed on the ground like a sculpture!) But you see, this isn’t a sculpture. It’s a collection of paintings housed in a rectangular furniture, portraits of Helena, the daughter of artist Martin Kippenberger (I don’t know who he is but never mind.) And as if the name isn’t stunning enough, the concept is brilliant. The pile of portraits are stacked inside the furniture so that only the top most painting is visible to the viewer. Immediately, I was struck of a sense of pity. Painstaking portraits hidden from plain sight? What a waste!
But through this, he demonstrates in the viewer this sense of mystic that the portraits are shrouded in. A kept secret, dangled right before the eyes of his viewers, but seized from their appreciation and therefore, he leaves his viewers just short of that gratification they so yearn, standing beside the stash.
Dick is convinced though that they’re blanks. Fraudulent compensation for the pieces he never painted anyway and he couldn’t stop raving about how brilliantly criminal the artist was. Philistine HAHA.
Also I love the name Helena, only think of the song by MCR. It’s such a beautifully twisted name.
Room 22: Du mentir-faux (About Lying Falsehood), 2000 by Ana Torfs
My fascination with this goes deeper. In the sense, I wasn’t so hot on it when I first saw it but I couldn’t get the sentence “Ask her if she’s in God’s grace” out of my head.
Exhibit is a slide projection alternating between images of a woman and questions from the trial of French heroine Joan of Arc. It says in the guide: “Du mentir-faux attests to Torf’s fascination with the historical-mythical figure and the impossibility of knowing the truth about her.”
The question “are you in God’s grace?” is an incriminating set-up by her inquisitors to pin down her guilt because both a straightforward yes or no is the wrong answer. And they expected a simple answer like that from an uneducated peasant like her. From Catholic teachings, 1. committing mortal sins takes the soul out of grace (if she answers no), 2. no mortal can presume to know God’s mind and therefore if grace has been bestowed on them (if she answers yes).
Joan cleverly answered neither in the positive nor in the negative. She replied, “If I am not, God put me there; if I am, God keep me there.” A perfect answer because it expresses desire to be closer to God.
There are a few other exhibits that were interesting. I especially feel an affinity to the works of Marlene Dumas. In Room 1, her 5 watercolours: Blind Joy, Indian Summer, Mis-cast, Sailors dream, Slight delight (see picture-the pornographic ones haha). And in Room 22, Sacifice. She paints female subjects in a way that etches them in my mind and haunts me. The 5 watercolours are painted as an antithesis to aesthetics and essentially the things that pornography stand for…or should I say they actually exemplify those qualities…the kind of prostitution that is forced by circumstances anyway. The 5 women seem to be trying to seduce in an awkward and almost sheepish way, noting their conventional ‘alluring’ poses, but they are not in the least bit attractive. It draws out a certain sense of pity for their unsuccessful attempt, if you come from the premise that allure is a woman’s prerogative. (Oh no, am I accidentally exposing my chauvinistic tendencies? Somehow I think like a man sometimes.)
And this, sorry I can’t think past “eww…pubic hair” for this. It’s a ‘sordid sheet with dried semen and photographs’ telling us of ‘the sad existence of Marc, an apprentice at a factory’. Well, at least he’s copulating.