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IO:  Sara, I can see from your website that your artistic endeavours comprise a rather broad range of mediums. I intend to focus this interview on the performance side of your work. Why did you take an interest in performance and how is it different from the other mediums you are working with?

SJ: Performance is an amazing medium because the body is the instrument, conduit and work, in and of itself. What is different about performance for me is that I seek a particular kind of experience. The process is very vulnerable and visceral – there is nothing material to hide behind. I also find it exciting to embody ideas directly though physical movement, duration, and experience.

 

IO: There is a constant preoccupation with feminism and feminine issues throughout your work whether you choose to bring this aspect forward, or keep it in the background. In the case of the latter, works such as the video performance Sew and Wash (2012), focusing on neurotic repetition, or the performance Embodying Lola (2012), where you re-enact of a series of you grandmother’s daily rituals, ask for feminist interpretations, amongst other. Can you expand more on this subject? What statement do you wish to convey through pieces like these?

SJ: Out of curiosity, which feminist interpretations come up for you as the viewer? ‘Feminism’ is so broad and continues to expand, especially in relation to queer theory and gender politics.

I was more interested in exploring psychological undertones around ageing, fear of death, and the anxiety of impermanence. My grandmother became a symbol of certain underlying human conditions as well as a mirror and reminder of the inevitable passage of time and the decline of the body. I am fascinated by daily rituals and nuanced coping behaviours around psychological fears. I am also interested in revealing a non-linear narrative and ambience of an aging woman’s life. I am interested in the extraordinary that occurs in mundane, every day human lives. I was also aware of the silence and invisibility of the elderly, and was interested in making visible details of her life that seemed to be taken for granted.

 

IO: What role does the ordinary have in your performances, in so far as it becomes central to some pieces? What should we, the members of the audience, think of routine and daily rituals in the context of your performances? And furthermore, in a world saturated with feminist statements and rituals, how does your work stand out?

SJ: When I begin creating a performance, I usually think of an experience that I would like to have or there is a conflict that I would like to explore. For example, one conflict I am interested in is the relationship between the body and the mind, the conscious and the unconscious ways gesture, emotion and habits are expressed. I am most interested experiencing vulnerability or using my body to re-experience a routine from a completely different perspective. There is something about daily, simple, and familiar elements that become fascinating, uncanny and unfamiliar with a slight shift in behaviour. For example, washing an object like a cup is a common activity, but the act of obsessively washing it, or even witnessing the absurdity of this act, allows a re-conceptualization of one’s relation to time, objects, and daily social constructs. I am interested in creating a pause for the viewer – either a moment of vulnerability, a moment of identification, or a pause to reflect about the choices one makes in constructing a day.

IO:  I want to ask you now about the Tape Body piece (2011). I think it is the coming-out-of-the-studio, so to speak, that caught my eye at first. It also seems to me the piece where public interaction and audience participation are providing raw study material. How do you rationalize public participation and how does it relate to your work? What did you expect from the public and, in an ideal scenario, what would public participation look like?

SJ: Tape Body began as a curiosity to accumulate physical residue of a daily routine. As a child, I used to take scotch tape and press it to my body or other objects to remove a layer of dead skin, or dust. I liked that the tape became an abstract reference for a body part or an object. I wanted to take that idea and extend it. I wanted to go throughout a day with a body that was sticky and pick up the residue of my activities. The piece became something else however. I realized I simultaneously repelled the public, as I was physically attracting dust and dirt. There was a tension between visibility and invisibility (disguising my identity by being covered, yet attracting attention because of my odd appearance), as well as between connection and disconnection (wanting to touch and accumulate physical matter, while repelling others away from me). My body became a character in the tape, of someone who was dealing with these psychological conflicts.

Public participation became an integral part of the work. At the beginning of the day when the tape was clean, people were curious. But as the day went on, no one wanted to touch me. The video captured people’s reactions – from intrigue, to disgust, from amusement to discomfort. The audience’s raw responses to my foreign form are an important part of the video piece. In the ideal scenario, the audience responds the way they truthfully want to respond – what happens, is what happens.

 

IO: Your statement for the same piece mentions: “Over the course of the performance the tape suit became a different kind of body – a body that wanted to touch but was also shielded by a thick skin; a body that wanted to connect, but also created repulsion; a body that masked identity but also was marked as very visible.” I find this duality fascinating. How do you think this duality affects the artist and the public and how did they perceived it?

SJ: I think the duality was inevitable. It reminds me of the character that emerges when anyone puts on a costume or a secret identity, whether it’s the Superman/Clark Kent or someone dressing up for Halloween. There is something about disguise and costuming that not only allows the wearer/artist to take on a new persona but also allows others to respond in a different way. For Tape Body I think the audience’s reaction was mixed and I am totally content with various reactions. I think that that is the most interesting, seeing different personalities emerge when they are confronted with the unexpected.

IO: Coming now to the collaboration between Redell & Jimenez: it is a partnership that both challenges and adds to a series of themes present in the contemporary art world. Can you both expand more on this, describe the concept of “inbetweeness,” as well as the manner in which it blends your individual artistic identities?

KR: The concept of “inbetweeness”* stems from our shared interest in the fluidity of identity. We both come from mixed backgrounds and are interested in how the categorization of the body – with regard to race, gender, nationality, etc. – becomes a process of constant negotiation for individuals, who do not fit solely into one category.  Even though our individual artistic identities interact with each other in order to make our work, the concept of “inbetweeness” comes from a shared interest – in more of a psychological space than an interest in creating a literal representation of a collaborative process.  Equally I feel like the artistic identity of our collaborative work becomes an entirely new entity that is stylistically pretty separate from either of our individual practices.

 

IO: Due to its inherent site-specificity, what are the criteria by which you select the performance space(s)? How do you adapt each performance to be site-specific and how are the “suit” and the “inbetweenness” changing from one site to the other?

KR: In the past we have tried to research and perform in spaces that somehow relate to a space of “inbetweeness” as well.  For example we have made work at such sites as the Gobi Desert and Twin Island (at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx).  We were interested in the Gobi Desert, as a contested site, that is geographically labelled as existing in two places; if you look at Mongolia’s map, Gobi is always claimed as an integral part of it; and the same happens with China’s map.

In the case of the work we made at Twin Island, we were interested in the shifting categorization of the site.  Twin Island at one point was an island, but now – due to environmental changes – has become part of the mainland.  We were interested in the manner in which it continues to be named an island, although it is technically no longer so. In general when we choose the sites, we try to make sure that there is some relevancy or relationship to our underlying interest. The performances themselves are choreographed both by a bodily reaction to the suit and the site itself.  We usually set out loose parameters for what the action/movement will be, but they often change once we are performing and responding to an unanticipated reaction to the landscape or to the tension in the suit.

I would say because the notion of “inbetweeness” comes from a pretty specific psychological space, the concept itself does not change from performance to performance.  However, the particular representation or metaphoric action of that psychological space does change from project to project, depending on what particular facet we want to explore.  For instance, areas of “inbetweeness” we have explored in the past range from restlessness to exhaustion or to physical tension, etc.

IO: The border between the house – the interior, the confined, the feminine – and the backyard – the outside, the masculine – in Negotiating Bounds (2012) or the analogy represented by the phallic motif in Wrap (2012) are, once more, overt feminist signifiers that keep surfacing in your work. In your opinion, how important are these signifiers in correlation to your genders and your feminine identities and in what way would they have changed if your partnership would have been mixed or opposite sexes?

KR: Part of the reason we are interested in concealing our faces with the suit, is so that the viewer can consider a metaphorical and amorphic body that is actively resisting categorization, versus specifically female “other” bodies.

I have no problem with the work being read as feminist – it absolutely is – however I think it is really important not to close off the conversation to typical masculine and feminine signifiers just because we are two feminist women making collaborative work together.  We are two feminist artists producing a body of work about what it means to exist as individuals, whom are constantly subjected to a series of racial and gender assumptions based on our appearances.

IO: Looking at the last in the series, Bounded (2012), the viewer witnesses a struggle for liberation from two opposite ends. Bound by the same shell – the “suit”- the body located on the inside finally prevails. How can you comment on this piece and its outcome, conceptually, and in relation to the border between the inside and the outside?

SJ: We were interested in exploring a state of tension and restlessness, as well as expressing an idea related to indecision – wanting to be in two places at once and the impossibility of attaining that goal. In the video, the two of us enacted a power dynamic where one attempted to pull the other one into a different space. Through the body suit, our identities became intertwined, where the tug of war became a metaphor for our internal conflict, as well as the tension of occupying and claiming one’s space.

IO: Sara, what does the future hold for you in terms of performance art? What are the future concepts and themes you think of approaching?

SJ: Performance art is an integral part of my practice. I would like to explore more durational and site-specific pieces as well as eventually create larger performances, where I would hire other performers to become part of the choreography.

IO: In what formula is the collaboration of Redell & Jimenez going to continue?

SJ: Redell & Jimenez is an ongoing collaboration that we are both mutually invested in. The concept around blurring the boundaries between racial and cultural identity will remain consistent, but we are expanding our mediums to include collaborative drawings, video installations, and more mixed media projects that explore the distance between us as we work from opposite coasts. Most recently we did a live performance at El Museo del Barrio where Kaitlynn was present in a video projection, and I simultaneously performed live in front of the audience. We hope to continue to explore new methodologies to incorporate the tension of working long-distance.

___________________________________________________________________

Images:

1. Expansion, 2012, digital C print, 32 x 18 inches, collaboration with Kaitlynn Redell

2. Documentation from Question for Revolution and Universal Brotherhood Exhibition at Arnold and Sheila Aronson Gallery, 2012

3. The Conversation, 2013, Digital C print, 20 x 30 inches, Ed of 5

4. The Imposer, 2013, Digital C print, 20 x 30 inches, Ed of 5

© Image copyright Sara Jimenez and Kaitlynn Redell. All rights reserved.

Image Image

Image                Image

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Sara Jimenez is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York. A graduate of the University of Toronto and of Parsons the New School of Design, her practices revolve around drawings, paintings, installations and performance art. Together with Kaitlynn Redell, they created Redell & Jimenez.

website: http://sarajimenezstudio.com/

Kaitlynn Redell combines mixed media painting and installation with collaborative performance in the form of Redell & Jimenez. Born and raised in Santa Cruz CA, she graduated from Otis College of Art and Design and from Parsons the New School of Design. She lives and works in Los Angeles and New York.

website: http://kaitlynnredell.com/

 


 * “Inbetweeness” is a central concept in the collaboration between Redell & Jimenez, defined as “a reconstruction of the concept of ‘identity’ […] a fluid, active construct, not a static fixed one,” under which the artists are creating a “new body […] a new living form that is unable to be categorized as a specific body,” in http://sarajimenezstudio.com/Redell-Jimenez.

Admin note: These are excerpts from a larger research aimed at exploring aesthetic, socio-political and economic aspects the XVII century French formal garden of Versailles and understanding the reasons behind some of the contemporary responses to it.

 

 “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food […]

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”          (Genesis, 2:8, 2:9, 2:15)

 

How far have we come from the Garden of Eden? To what extent has our aesthetic sense changed? What did the XVII century French understand by the idea of garden and how do we respond to that today?

In the XVII century France, debates on the primacy of painting and sculpture were made from a geometrical point of view, introducing the spectator as the decisive third party, who was responsible for making the decision. The role of Vision, which had been holding metaphysical and epistemological primacy as the metaphor for knowledge, was now slowly undermined by new perspectives that related to Sensations and their relationship with Ideas.[1] In an article on social claims and the French garden, Chandra Mukerji endeavoured to demonstrate the existence of an important relationship between the material culture of the early modern era and the XVII century French formal garden.[2] Although history traditionally attributes court culture to a carefully organised elite system of style and taste, Mukerji’s anthropological approach demonstrates the important role the garden plays in the social, cultural and political life. The gardens such as those of Versailles must be seen as more than as a space of retreat and promenade, as architectural extensions than stand for royalty. One of the attributes that made the French garden exquisite is that it integrated diversity and form in geometrical, rational patterns. The recipe for a “perfect garden” consisted in finding new ways to use classical motifs and, at the same time, match the ambitions of the court and this is why Louis appointed André Le Nôtre as the court landscapist and engineer after seeing his work at Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Between André Le Nôtre’s birth, in 1613 and his death in 1700, the French formal garden would configure into its specific form. By this time, gardening had already been established as it came from a long tradition, and gardening had become an important art form, comparable with architecture or the visual arts.[3] Before Versailles, Le Nôtre made a name for himself as a parterre designer and caught the attention of the King after his work at Vaux-le-Vicomte, where he exquisitely manipulated levels and space.

Of all the elements in the Versailles gardens, Louis took official credit for only one: The Bosquet of the Three Fountains.[4] However, it is no secret that he was actively implicated and had full control over the shaping of the gardens. As the absolute monarch of a major player in European politics, Louis’s attributes expanded much towards foreign diplomacy. In these circumstances, the splendour at Versailles and its gardens had to engage in a competition with perfection; the display of an impressive collection of plants, lavish sculptures in marble and spectacular engineering water devices had to impress and to create the impression of limitless power. Even if ambassadors and other diplomats were – after the members of the royal court – the primary audience for the promenade in the park, the gardens were also an important site for the eyes of the wide public, which, Mukerji argues, is a significant contribution to them being treated as national assets and not private ones.[5]

The history of the garden is closely connected to the economy of collecting: the bigger the garden, the higher the demands for exotic, unusual and rare plants.[6] But the gardens were more than sites for collecting botanical specimens; they offered an occasion for collecting sculptures, building fountains (water was an essential part of the garden), grottoes or displaying exquisite items of furniture for outdoor dining. Indeed, in the XVII century Versailles, few specimens from the collection of plants have an individuality of their own, but were part of a rigorously planned medium, with which people could “display” information about the world they lived in.[7]

Even if Mukerji marginalizes the importance of the promenade, its role should, however, not be underestimated. The XVII century witnessed the development of the so-called “arte du promenade[8]. The Cartesian theory states the role of the promenade causes, through the pleasures of the body, the elevation of the soul. The explanation behind mental activities such as sensation, memory, or imagination, can be find in formulating hypotheses about the interaction between the environment, the senses, and the processing of the brain.[9] Undoubtedly, this is something Le Nôtre must have had in mind when he designed the gardens at Versailles: the possibility of a promenade offers an opportunity for admiration, conversation and relaxation and the gardens definitely live up to that. Another important feature would have been alignment and disposition. As a mirroring of Tomaso Campanella’s La Città del Sole (The City of the Sun), the plans of Versailles were organized around the centre ( in the middle of the palace, which was the King’s Room) and vast avenues, metaphors for the Sun’s rays, starting from the Court d’honneur. As for the botanical collection, an artificial park, where everything is domesticated and integrated into geometric, controlled spaces guided by reason, it has been seen by some to exist only for the purposes of putting the statuary in value.[10]

 

****

Three centuries later, in 2008, Elena Geuna and Laurent Le Bon curated Jeff Koons’ retrospective in the palace and gardens of Versailles. Koons deliberately chose not to design new pieces for the exhibition, but to let the artwork choose the space of display.[11] The artist paid careful attention to the relationship between each art object and the space surrounding it, in an attempt to pay tribute to the immense artistic heritage from the Baroque era, and at the same time trying to find new ways for expressing contemporary ideas in the context of a historical site. Indeed, the artist’s intent is to establish a three-way relationship between the site, the contemporary artwork, and the public, in opposition to passive responses that are, in his opinion, the usual reaction when visiting a historical place. Moreover, he seeks to challenge the contemporaneity of historical monuments, which were themselves considered ‘contemporary’ at some point, and to ask questions about their relationship with the present.[12]

I wish to bring into discussion two of his works, namely the Balloon Flower and Puppy (Split Rocker). Both pieces were installed on outdoor premises, and both, although very different from one another, challenged the immediate surroundings. Koons changed the colour of the Balloon Flower,[13] aiming to integrate it into the palace’s golden decoration scheme, fresh, bright and reflecting the architectural features from around. The organic shape stands at the threshold between the depiction of vegetal motifs and the practice of twisting balloons, usually associated with childhood, beauty and innocence. Puppy, erected in the parterres of the Orangerie (the same place where Bernini’s sculpture once stood), with more than 90,000 petunias and geraniums planted in the pots for the duration of the exhibition, depicts a metamorphic creature, half-horse half-dinosaur.[14] The challenge was directed, this time, towards both the Sun King and Andrè Le Nôtre; Koons explores, again on a monumental scale, aspects of power, control and bringing fantasies to life, aspects that he believes, Louis XIV would have had access to: “Wherever the king moved the environment would change with him.”[15] The exhibition attracted a series of negative comments, ranging from aesthetic criticism to political accusations.[16]

To bring things further, Joan De Jean, in her article ‘The Chateau is Being Crowded Out’, argued that “Versailles’ decorating team—directed by royal painter, Charles Le Brun […]put together what would be called today a mixed-media installation. Each room’s décor combines a number of techniques: painting, bronzed stucco, plaster panels, gilt bronze, marbling, panels of patterned velvet, [and] panels of different-coloured marbles. The overall goal was never to create individual masterpieces that would have attracted attention away from the total effect. Le Brun intended instead to produce an ensemble that literally stopped visitors in their tracks and therefore served as instant proof that the Sun King was the wealthiest and most powerful ruler in Europe.”[17] The same rule applies to Le Nôtre’s gardens. Therefore, in terms of reception, a working theory could be that Bernini’s poignant style would single out the creation, not having blended with the rest of the garden sculptures and, implicitly, with the French taste. Afterwards, Berger argued that after its alteration, Louis might have decided to transfer the piece at the Lac du Suisses because then it would be “integral to the compositional scheme of the park.”[18] In different times, contemporary artists at Versailles (and Koons is not an exception) are doing exactly the opposite, in trying to single out a piece; for this they employ different concepts, different materials and propose a different type of dialogue. I am wondering, however, if the public’s strong reaction – such as that of the ‘group dedicated to artistic purity’ that protested outside Versailles’ gates prior to the Koons exhibition opening – is not combining the same mentality with a general prejudice against foreign art.

A year later, in 2009, Versailles hosted another contemporary art exhibition, this time by a French conceptual artist, Xavier Veilhan. Veilhan’s work blends and confronts the site at the same time; his symbols and ideas reflect a deep preoccupation for the numerous histories that Versailles witnessed. Interested in the orchestration of power and its iconographic materialization and using techniques borrowed from constructivist propaganda, Veilhan explores and transforms the visual ideology present in the gardens at Versailles.[19] By fabricating a map where he outlined the place the artworks will occupy and the route the visitor ought to follow,[20] Veilhan translated in cartography what The King had indicated more than three centuries before in his ‘Manière de Montrer Les Jardins de Versailles’. The intention behind works such as The Large Carriage or The Fountain point at the artist’s deep understanding of the Baroque relationship with equilibrium, scale and observation points. It is, indeed, with these two pieces, that Veilhan signals his preference for the palace’s ambulatory spaces and gardens and comes closest to the intentions Louis the XIV must have had. With The Carriage placed in the court d’honneur – coloured in purple, complementing the golden gate and the rooftop decorations – Veilhan brings forward perceptions of space and time by choosing to depict it in motion. A possible interpretation draws attention upon the passing of time as opposed to the durability and monumentality.

By working with stage designers,[21] the artist experimented with ideas related to theatre, bringing forward the idiosyncrasies of the stage and of theatricality in the French Baroque era. The Fountain pays clear homage to the XVII century fountains; Ramade suggested that its pronounced – but calculated – verticality is a tribute to Brâncuşi’s Endless Column.[22] The artist’s preference for courts and gardens extends beyond the spaces themselves, in the piece called the Light Machine, where technological advance makes possible a bird’s eye view documentation of Versailles gardens and representing it on a screen.[23]

At the same time, Veilhan confronts and challenges. The emblem of Louis XIV, the Sun, which is an integral part of Versailles, is being challenged in the work Veilhan chose to situate on the parterre in front of the Grand Canal. By using metal shaped like pins needles, and by ‘pinning’ them to the ground, to form the shape of the moon, the artist opposes the symbol of the night to the symbol of the day, which Louis, if we imagine him looking from the windows in his apartment, would not have missed. On the same note, The Giant/ Yuri Gagarin aims to lengthen and complement Louis XIV’s governing attribute: ambition. Built on a large scale (4 meters), the figure crystallizes the power of science development and the humankind’s constant aspiration to mastering the Universe. His position, his mission and the missing part of his chest, all point towards an allegory of the Fallen Man.[24] The Giant points definitively to the future; the ‘rocky’ texture and the colour could be seen as lunar metaphors – even if Gagarin did not walk on the moon, he was still the first human to see the Earth from the ‘outside’.

 On the other hand, the anthropomorphic figures in The Naked Woman, The Architects or The Giant/ Yuri Gagarin subscribe to a different narrative. Save for the last, the figures are archetypal, allowing the viewer the possibility to project himself beyond the anecdotal.[25] The woman is a generic, almost primitive figure, short-haired, facing the golden entrance gate, stripped of her clothes and standing on a oversized pedestal. If the monumental is usually associated with massiveness, timelessness and public significance (in which Versailles excels, and which was also explored in Jeff Koons’ exhibition in the previous year), The Naked Woman is marked by anonymity and deliberate un-monumentality.[26] She could be anyone – from a member of the Royal Court, one of the King’s mistresses, tangled in and powerless against court intrigues, to a woman in service, a pawn on a gigantic chess table. Furthermore, her gender recalls the well-established social hierarchies between men and women at the time, and her bareness is a clear a visual indicator of this.[27] Even the pantheon displayed in The Architects follows the same generic pattern translated into monochromatic sculptures standing on what appears to be pedestals, suggested only by a few lines.[28] The subjective interpretation mixes with the generic, managing to impose an intimidating authority over the spectator.[29] By choosing to locate them in and around the Water Parterres, Veilhan re-enacted the practice of collecting of garden sculptures – instead of admiring mythological figures, the viewer admires 20th century architects, but the principle remains the same.

 

LIST OF IMAGES:

 

JEF KOONS

 

1. Balloon Flower

 Image

 Image

 

 2. Puppy/ Split Rocker

 ImageImage

 

 

XAVIER VEILHAN

 

1. The Large Carriage

 Image

         Image

 

 2. The Fountain

Image   Image

 

3. The Naked Woman

 Image         

 

4. The Giant / Yuri Gagarin

 Image

 Image   Image

 

5. The Architects

Claude Parent

Richard Rogers

Sir Norman Foster

Renzo Piano

Tadao Ando

Jean Nouvel

Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal

Kazuyo Sejima

Philippe Bona & Elisabeth Lemercier

 Image  

 Image

 

5.  Moon Map                                                                   

Image 

 

   6. The Light Bulb

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

 

Adams, William Howard, The French Garden 1500-1800, Scholar Press, London

 

Art21, Jeff Koons at Versailles, iTunes video online, 2:39, Art21 Blog, http://blog.art21.org/2009/10/30/jeff-koons-versailles/, 2009

 

Berger R W, Bernini’s Louis XIV Equestrian: A Closer Examination of Its Fortunes at Versailles, Art Bulletin 63, no. 2 (1981).

 

Hoptman Laura, Unmonumental: Going to Pieces in the 21st century, in Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st century, R. Flood et al (ed.), London; New York: Phaidon in association with New Museum, 2007

Christafis Angelique, King of kitsch invades Sun King’s palace, The Guardian, Tuesday 9 September 2008, accessible via http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/09/art.france

Clarke Desmond, Descartes’s Theory of Mind, Oxford Scholarship Online: Oxford University Press, 2003

Craig Fisher, Jeff Koons courts controversy — and photos of sculpture at Versailles, LA Times, 19 September 2008, accessible via: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2008/09/jeff-koons-soli.html

Irvine Chris, Jeff Koons exhibition at Versailles draws criticism, The Telegraph, 10 of September 2008, accessible via: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/2774812/Jeff-Koons-exhibition-at-Versailles-draws-criticism.html

Jeff Koons: Celebration, A. Hrüsch (ed.), Ostifildern : Hatje Cantz Verlag ; Berlin : Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2008

 

Jeff Koons, F. Bonami (ed.), Chicago : Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago ; New Haven : in Association with Yale University Press, 2008

 

Le Dantec Denise, Quand le Roi Bâtissait Versailles et ses Jardins, Dalhousie French Studies, vol. 29 Jardins et Chateaux (Winter 1994).

Lichtenstein, Jacqueline. The Blind Spot : An Essay on the Relations between Painting and Sculpture in the Modern Age. trans. Chris Miller. Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 2008.

Mukerji Chandra, Reading and Writing with Nature: Social Claims and the French Formal Garden, Theory and Society, Vol. 19, No. 6 (Dec., 1990).

Murg Stephanie, Fun King Meets Sun King: Jeff Koons to Exhibit at Versailles, Unbeige, 21 December 2007, via: http://www.mediabistro.com/unbeige/fun-king-meets-sun-king-jeff-koons-to-exhibit-at-versailles_b4397

Pérouse de Montoclos Jean-Marie, Vaux-le-Vicomte, trans Judith Hayward, Paris : Scala Books, 2007

 

Sciolino Elaine, At Versailles, an invasion of American Art, NY Times, [n.d.], via: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/09/11/arts/design/20080911_KOONS_SLIDESHOW_index.html

 

Szántó Catherine,  Le promeneur dans le jardin : de la promenade considérée comme acte esthétique. Regard sur les jardins de Versailles. PhD diss., Université Paris VIII, 2009

 

The Art Newspaper, Issue 218, November 2010, published online: 15 November 2010, available via http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/The-chteaus-being-crowded-out/21847

 

Thompson Ian, The Sun King’s Garden: Louis XIV, Andrè Le Nôtre and the Creation of the Gardens of Versailles, Bloomsbury, London, 2006

 

Veilhan Versailles: Xavier Veilhan at the Château de Versailles, exhibition brochure, © Château de Versailles 2009, presentation of the works by BÉNÉDICTE RAMADE

 

Versailles : Deux Siècles d’Histoire de l’Art, études et chroniques de Christian Baulez, Versailles : [Société des amis de Versailles], 2007

 

Versailles: Le Jardin Courtisan d’André Le Nôtre, Le quotidian La Montagne online, [pdf], accessed on 07 April 2013

 

Walton Guy, Louis XIV’s Versailles, The University of Chicago Press, 1986

 

Wittkower R., The Vicissitudes of a Dynastic Monument: Bernini’s Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV, in De Atribus Opuscula: Essays in Honour of Erwin Panofsky, M. Meiss (ed.), New York, 1961

 

 http://www.veilhan-versailles.com/blog/ accessed May 1, 2013

http://www.veilhan.net/rubrique-1195/cible-1082.html, accessed May 1, 2013

http://www.jeffkoonsversailles.com/en/


[1] Jacqueline Lichtenstein,. The Blind Spot : An Essay on the Relations between Painting and Sculpture in the Modern Age. trans. Chris Miller. Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 2008.

[2] Chandra Mukerji, Reading and Writing with Nature: Social Claims and the French Formal Garden, Theory and Society, Vol. 19, No. 6 (Dec., 1990), pp. 651-679

 

[3] William Howard Adams, The French Garden 1500-1800, Scholar Press, London, 1979, p. 75

 

[4] Guy Walton, Louis XIV’s Versailles, The University of Chicago Press, 1986, p. 37. Walton also argues that from the artistic point of view, the needs of the King and the extended Royal family were the sole decision factors in the organisation of Versailles (p.38); this would automatically extend to the gardens and it cannot be entirely true. While the King had undisputable veto power over most matters, it has been clearly noted that the gardens had to serve many purposes and to satisfy different categories of audiences, elements which needed to be taken into consideration before making a decision related to design.

 

[5] Mukerji, p. 675

 

[6] Mukerji affirms that even though the preoccupation for cultivating the exotic and the rare is not new, the cultural and economical flow in which they subscribe undergoes an important change in these years. A broad collection implicates an impressive global reach, and at the same time tying the histories of culture with the histories of collecting that expanded along with the development of trade.  (p. 654)

 

[7] Ibid, p. 655

[8] For a pertinent and a thorough exploration of the matter cf. Catherine Szántó,  Le promeneur dans le jardin : de la promenade considérée comme acte esthétique. Regard sur les jardins de Versailles. PhD diss., Université Paris VIII, 2009

 

[9] Desmond Clarke, Descartes’s Theory of Mind, Oxford Scholarship Online: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 1-35 

 

[10] Cf. Denise Le Dantec, Quand le Roi Bâtissait Versailles et ses Jardins, Dalhousie French Studies, vol. 29 Jardins et Chateaux (Winter 1994), pp. 31-54 and

 Versailles: Le Jardin Courtisan d’André Le Nôtre, Le quotidian La Montagne online, [pdf], accessed on 07 April 2013

 

[11] Presentation y the curators of the exhibition, information available via http://www.jeffkoonsversailles.com/en/ (accessed 25 April, 2013)

 

[12] Ibid.

 

[13] Originally, the Balloon Flower was magenta; part of the Celebration series, cf. the volumes Jeff Koons: Celebration, A. Hrüsch (ed.), Ostifildern : Hatje Cantz Verlag ; Berlin : Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2008 and Jeff Koons, F. Bonami (ed.), Chicago : Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago ; New Haven : in Association with Yale University Press, 2008

 

[15] Art21, Jeff Koons at Versailles, iTunes video online, 2:39, Art21 Blog, http://blog.art21.org/2009/10/30/jeff-koons-versailles/, 2009

[16] In the English-speaking press and art blogs:

Stephanie Murg, Fun King Meets Sun King: Jeff Koons to Exhibit at Versailles, Unbeige, 21 December 2007, via: http://www.mediabistro.com/unbeige/fun-king-meets-sun-king-jeff-koons-to-exhibit-at-versailles_b4397

Angelique Christafis, King of kitsch invades Sun King’s palace, The Guardian, Tuesday 9 September 2008, accessible via http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/09/art.france

Chris Irvine, Jeff Koons exhibition at Versailles draws criticism, The Telegraph, 10 of September 2008, accessible via: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/2774812/Jeff-Koons-exhibition-at-Versailles-draws-criticism.html

Craig Fisher, Jeff Koons courts controversy — and photos of sculpture at Versailles, LA Times, 19 September 2008, accessible via: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2008/09/jeff-koons-soli.html

Elaine Sciolino, At Versailles, an invasion of American Art, NY Times, [n.d.], via: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/09/11/arts/design/20080911_KOONS_SLIDESHOW_index.html

[17] The Art Newspaper, Issue 218, November 2010, published online: 15 November 2010. The article is available via http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/The-chteaus-being-crowded-out/21847

 

[18] Berger, p. 248

 

[19] Veilhan’s work, http://www.veilhan.net/rubrique-1195/cible-1082.html (accessed May 1, 2013).

 

[20] Veilhan Versailles: Xavier Veilhan at the Château de Versailles, exhibition brochure, © Château de Versailles 2009, presentation of the works by BÉNÉDICTE RAMADE, p. 3

 

[21] A very useful tool documenting the process of organising and curating the Versailles exhibition can be found via: http://www.veilhan-versailles.com/blog/ (accessed April 3, 2013).

 

[22] Veilhan Versailles, p. 4

 

[23] Cf. Ibid, p. 4

 

[24] Veilhan Versailles, p. 3

 

[25] Veilhan’s work, http://www.veilhan.net/rubrique-1195/cible-1082.html (accessed May 1, 2013).

 

[26] In this context, un-monumentality is used to describe a kind of sculpture that is not against the values of monumentality (anti-monumental), but intellectually lacks them. For an in-depth exploration of the concept in 21st century sculpture, cf. Laura Hoptman’s essay Unmonumental: Going to Pieces in the 21st century, in Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st century, R. Flood et al (ed.), London; New York: Phaidon in association with New Museum, 2007, pp. 128-140.

 

[27] In his editorial, Ramade affirms that: “Here, like a new standard-meter, the female figure regulates the court’s balance. Its pathetic size, in comparison to the architectural ensemble’s affirmation of power acts to normalize; the woman, in her ingenious nudity, regulates the universe of Versailles.” It is true that her presence adds the human factor into the vast architectural space. However, in admiring her on top of a tall pedestal, the viewer might find identification difficult. His vantage point remains unchanged, which makes it almost impossible to relate it realistically to the immense space around. I believe that The Naked Woman should be viewed as a socio-political statement and as Veilhan’s attempt to create a slippage between what is conventionally thought of to be monumental and un-monumental.  

 

[28] The archetype becomes here a catalyst that gives way to a reflection on the commemorative dimension of public statuary and on its action as a sign in our urban everyday life.

 

[29] In his anthropomorphic figures, Veilhan denies the viewer any real identification of and with a character: “More recently they have been given names, but there is nothing to indicate portrait as such. Even when I assembled my personal pantheon of 20th century builders, I named my monochrome sculptures, The Architects” (cf. artist’s homepage, http://www.veilhan.net/rubrique-1195/cible-1082.html, accessed May 1, 2013). The way I see it, identification is essential in works such as The Architects or The Giant, because Veilhan chose to attribute each sculpture to a historical figure: it is, after all, the key principle of the modern meaning of a pantheon.

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I have this rule that I always go by: I never read any reviews before I go to see a new film, just as I never flick through catalogues prior to an exhibition. I feel as if the raw opinion, my raw opinion, would irrevocably be altered by assimilating somebody else’s point of view beforehand. And so I went one night to see Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby with nothing more than a candid memory of Fitzgerald’s novel – which I’ve read in high school – accompanied by considerable enthusiasm. I have been looking forward to this adaptation for a couple of years now, and the trailer(s) announced something quite remarkable.

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One can trace a solid parallel between the experience of watching The Great Gatsby and taking LSD. You feel overwhelmed, dazzled, hypnotized, stimulated, crazy. But somehow something doesn’t quite fit. Imagine having this uncanny feeling and not being able to put your finger on the exact spot. It might be too eccentric, but you feel like doing an injustice by dismissing it. I left the theatre with a mix of confusion and bewilderment, and it took me a while to get a hold of my thoughts. Getting home, my intrigue increased as I couldn’t stop myself from post-rationalising every single scene. I started searching for reviews online, driven by the urge I had for confirmation. And it doesn’t take long to find it:

 

Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/reviews/article-2325782/The-Great-Gatsby-review-Baz-Luhrmanns-film-shallow-spilt-champagne.html

The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2013/05/13/130513crci_cinema_denby

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/may/19/great-gatsby-review-philip-french

And the list goes on and on. All of them accuse Luhrmann of aesthetic vulgarity. And by all means, they are not far from the truth. Take, for instance, the party scene at Gatsby’s mansion: an eclectic juxtaposition of bombastic scenes, most of the time lacking in substance and some may say even in taste. This is not surprising, I dare say, considering Luhrmann’s predisposition for lavish displays. We’ve seen it in Strictly Ballroom, in Moulin Rouge, he even “messed with” Shakespeare in Romeo + Juliet. However, it appears that here the public might be less inclined to forgive him. And the soundtrack follows the same trajectory; some of the scores fit beautifully and some seem completely out of place…it is so frustrating to imagine what might have been more appropriate. In fact, one can easily conclude that the director’s exaggerated enthusiasm, in this case, gets in the way. In an interview for The Stylist Magazine, Luhrmann labels himself as an “extensive research junkie”. I agree. This is always a wonderful asset to have. He also says “I get completely lost in it. It is such a culturally rich period, how could you not love it?”. Again, I agree. But this is not enough.

It would be a lie to say that thee movie is all bad. No, there is definitely a lot going on in there, and Luhrmann’s enthusiasm transpires through every scene. On the same note, the viewer can almost feel the passionate – but ultimately consuming – romance firsthand: the actors do a great job in this direction. It is, as David Denby put it: “When Luhrmann calms down, however, and concentrates on the characters, he demonstrates an ability with actors that he hasn’t shown in the past.” DiCaprio does a wonderful job (except for the fact that he is overzealous in depicting Gatsby’s phrase “old sport” ), Mulligan makes a very volatile Daisy Buchanan; Maguire seems a bit too passive sometimes, but Edgerton was born for the role of Tom Buchanan, one might presume. The epoch’s ephemeral and capricious character is, also, unquestionably well transposed, as long as one sticks with the tête-à-tête scenes. And this forms the most frustrating part: Luhrman can, if he wants to. So why try to overdue it and risk being percieved as shallow?

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Additional details:

IMDB: 7.5

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1343092/?ref_=sr_1

Admin note: Again, a book review. I think this is the kind of work that you either get, or you completely don’t. Joselit’s choice and style is somewhat surprising, given his completely different approach in earlier works (such as the one on Duchamp, which you can access here), but an approach that he will develop even further (in Painting Beside Itself, OCTOBER 130, for example, for which you can click here).

 

Frfeedback joselit book coverom its early beginnings until the present moment, television has been on a linear trajectory from an object of commodity to a necessity. A wide range of scholarship has been concerned with the social, political and cultural implications of television, and debates ranged from the consumption of TV as a commodity,[1] to television’s place within the ruling ambitions of the governing classes,[2] or to the impact television has on children.[3] Feedback proposes a different perspective, an organic (re)view of the individuals that rebelled against television’s domesticity, trying to enhance a perspective in which art stands against television and television against democracy. Joselit’s mission lies in describing the politics of the images themselves and the way in which art history and visual culture might participate in its procedures. Chiefly using the metaphor of the figure-ground relationship, Feedback aims to achieve three main goals. Firstly, it aspires to provide a close analysis of the television system during its early years in the United States, secondly, to discuss closely the implications of conducting politics through images, and, thirdly, to challenge current methodologies used in the field of art history, accomplished by what the author calls “fantasies of revolution and subversion” (p. xii). The selection of artists falls under the umbrella of eclecticism, as Joselit’s preoccupation is not limited to categorizing, but to uniting a set of images in a discussion of dislocating and to reconstructing television’s compact circuit.

Joselit opens the discussion by redefining the network and the commodity, concepts that are simultaneously antagonistic and inextricably linked: while the commodity requires a network to enable movement the mobility of the network is a potential threat to the stability of commodities (p. 7). Using the examples of Nan June Paik’s Prepared TV’s and Andy Warhol’s Underground Sundae, the author illustrates how two very different approaches bring together common issues,[4] reasserting trajectories and evoking television’s unconsciousness. Thus, as a post-rationalization, the network is a function of the commodity, the commodity a function of the network and the network becomes a commodity itself. The debate slowly advances towards three very important vectors: the virus, feedback and the avatar.

 The Virus, in simple words the artist’s methodology in combating politicized information, slowly slips towards the realm of aesthetics, due to the ingenious use of the technical apparatus of television to create an anti-message, a revolt towards anti-democracy. Joselit advocates for what Susan Sontag [5] once called the eco-formalism, being interested in how a certain type of imagery established relationships with networks, proliferation and commodities. One of the theoretical examples refers to William Burroughs, who – in his work The Ticket that Exploded – identified the viral attributes of the language. Following this line or argumentation, playback becomes a political virus and the manipulation of language “is powerfully catalytic” (p. 55). For Jasper Johns, to give a pictorial example, painting undergoes a syntactical manipulation through his ready-mades, where motion is the focal attribute. In Paik’s electronic painting, the parasitic and systemic become the object’s way of being “absorbed into scan lines only to be rewritten as pure abstract patterns” (p. 63).

Naturally, the dispersion of a virus implies a certain set of responses, or feedback(s), a process facilitating dialogue, set against the control of information by the private sector. It is a process of reconfiguring a given subjectivity into a new typology, possible primarily through cable access television (that would inherently build community-oriented networks).[6] Joselit exemplifies this brilliantly by discussing the politics of the Yippie activism versus the network, where outrageous events sought to seize a few moments of the network news for anti-propagandistic reasons. Their anti-political and antisocial manifestos overlap with performance in creating “advertisement[s] for revolution” (p. 112), attempting to assimilate corporate advertising structures only to challenge it from inside out. Joselit very unsurprisingly associates these events with Paik’s TV sets, arguing that what seemed like an extreme measure ultimately led to a dilemma of assimilation. In other words, by adopting a strategy of dislocating a system from inside out, the Yippies risked getting absorbed into the institutional framework of television, a paradigm exploited by Andy Warhol – Joselit’s next stop – in his TV $ 199 [7] and Exploding Plastic.[8]

Finally, the Avatar translates the virtual identity of the artist, an assumed alias by which a creator completes his cycle of transformation, distancing himself from the “dangers” of the network. Joselit once again, in an anthropological manner, argues against television’s ability to replace “human belongings with characters” because it “transposes politics and public debate into privately owned and operated simulations” (p. 155), a very efficient tool of manipulation. Joselit’s solution consists in operating this political agent, and directing it against assumptions of consumption and possession. Unfortunately, although the idea seems ingenuous, it lacks consistent exemplification. The inconsistency between the identification of a series of iconic pieces (especially from the branch of performance art) and its poor employment affects the accuracy of the argument; furthermore, Joselit’s discourse is plainly obscure, making a clear argumentation difficult. Moreover, the scarce criticism that the author makes towards art historical methodologies prove his initial intention to be, in this respect, unsuccessful.

It is interesting how Joselit chose to summarize his ideas in the afterword-manifesto, where the three key concepts of the book unite with the author’s perception on the art-historical methods that should be applied when assessing artworks. However, point four of this manifesto in the only place in the entire book where Joselit decides to criticize openly previous methodological approaches; a sustained argument illustrated relevantly in this direction would have been most welcome. In retrospective, Joselit’s argumentation seems to imply a political stage, from which a certain set of actors detach themselves in creating alternative forms.

 

Bibliography and further reading:

  • Engelman Ralph, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, Sage Publications, 1996
  • Kellner Douglas, Television and the Crisis of Democracy, Westview Press, 1990
  • McAllister Matthew P. and J. Matt Giglio, The Commodity Flow of U.S. Children’s Television, subchapter From Television Flow To Commodity Flow, Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 22, no. 1, March 2005
  • McCarthy Anna, The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America, New Press, New York: 2010
  • Morley David, Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies, Routledge, London, 1992
  • Shamberg Michael and Raindance Corporation, Guerilla Television, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971
  • Smith Ralph Lee, The Wired Nation, Nation 210, no. 19, May 18, 1970
  • Sontag Susan, On Photography, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979
  • Spigel Lynn, TV by Design, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • The Brave New World of TV, (click here)
  • Tichi Cecilia, Electronic Health: Creating an American TV Culture, New York: Oxford University Press 1991

[1] In David Morley, Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies, Routledge, London, 1992, chapter 10

[2] The main aspect discussed in Anna McCarthy’s book, The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America, New Press, New York: 2010

[3] Matthew P. McAllister and J. Matt Giglio, The Commodity Flow of U.S. Children’s Television, subchapter From Television Flow To Commodity Flow, Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 22, no. 1, March 2005, p. 26-44

[4] such as the connection between different objects and the information networks in which they travel

[5] Susan Sontag, The Image-World, in On Photography, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, p. 180

[6] Michael Shamberg and Raindance Corporation militated for the adoption of such measures in the book-turned-into-manifest Guerilla Television (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 28- 40). Other scholars seem equally concerned with this issue:

Ralph Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, Sage Publications, 1996

Douglas Kellner, Television and the Crisis of Democracy, Westview Press, 1990

The Brave New World of TV, an article essentially technical; it is a good starting point for contemporary debates on this subject.

Ralph Lee Smith, The Wired Nation, Nation 210, no. 19, May 18, 1970

[7] Where the connections between money and television are impossible to dissolve (p. 115)

[8] Where two instances of the body – pain and an object of mechanical reproduction – overlap (p. 120)

Admin note: I had the pleasure of reviewing this book  as an assignment for a course on Bernini that I recently took at University of St Andrews. A couple of months later, I attended a research seminar, held by C.D. Dickerson III,on the same topic, which I am happy to say, was one of the best talks that I experienced in a long time. Further details about the exhibition can be found here, and the catalogue can be purchased from here or here.

 

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Bernini: Sculpting in Clay Exhibition Catalogue
Image copyright: The Kimbell Art Museum

“Dazzled by the artist’s energy and creativity, modern visitors to Italy may wonder how Bernini conceived such complex and spirited works. The answers can be found in the terracotta models and drawings produced in the process of developing ideas for his large-scale works in marble and bronze […] the small clay models intimately reveal Bernini’s own skill and personality.” (cited from Director’s Foreword, p. vi)

 

Small fragments from Director Thomas P. Campbell’s foreword, these three phrases crystallize the main intention behind the exhibition recently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bernini is a prolific artist, whose interests ranged from architecture to sculpture, painting, stage designing and even play-writing; although his terracotta models have long been relished among connoisseurs, and a considerable amount of academic work has been published about them, but never before did they receive such extensive attention. This exhibition, as C.D. Dickerson III states in his introduction,[1] tries to facilitate an intimate view of these models for both specialists and the wide public.  The pivotal aim of this monumental book is to translate this in writing, while engaging in theoretical debates over some important aspects in Bernini’s working method. Therefore, the vast catalogue (formed of 256 pages summing up 52 richly illustrated entries) is preceded by a collection of five essays that create a unified body of scholarly research, a visual glossary, and succeeded by a substantial index and an extensive bibliography.

 In the Introduction, Dickerson assumes the role of mediator between the researchers behind the exhibition, the initiated and the public, in a clear, straightforward manner. Moreover, the reader receives details about specific items, present or absent from the exhibition and, notably, information about specific terms used throughout the book: for instance, the use of attributed to raises questions in terms of authorship, as Dickerson honestly admits the problematic situation with some of the works.

 The essays are comprehensive in nature, giving an overview that ranges from biographical information to historiography. Dickerson, the author of the fist essay, places Bernini in the broader artistic context of the XVII century Italian art. Focusing exclusively on sculpture, the author explains how Bernini became to be a genuine virtuoso of the marble, arguing that modelling in clay was a very important stage in the artistic creation. Looking at the practice of sculpting as a family tradition, the author acknowledges the close professional relationship between Gian Lorenzo and his father, Pietro, as fundamental to the former’s artistic development; he also dismisses former views that labelled Pietro as unimaginative. Unfortunately, the argument looses in clarity due to the presence of numerous unnecessary biographical details and background information[2] – a more efficient method would have been perhaps selecting the facts that are strictly necessary for the argument and dividing it into more sections. Dickerson also emphasizes on the important part Maderno played in Bernini’s modelling in clay, rooting their professional dialogue into a close friendship. In the second part of his essay, his attention shifts to exploring and suggesting ways in which widely famous sculptures such as Pluto and Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, David and a number of head studies have been conceived. He prepares the ground by pointing to the need of preliminary clay models and paper drawings that assisted the sculptor throughout the creative process. Unfortunately, Wardropper – the author of the next essay, whose aim is to demonstrate the important part that drawing played in the creation of Bernini’s finished pieces – takes his role a bit too seriously, engaging in a line of reasoning that demands a high degree of connoisseurship from the part of the reader. The scanty employment of the imagery, the occasional detours and the dryness of the discourse prevent an argument that is good in its essence to hold a high degree of attraction.

 Progressing with the reading, the viewer will soon find himself in an unpleasant position regarding technicalities such as the system of notation. Footnotes would have syncopated the text in a way that would visually disrupt, but placing endnotes at the back of the book seems as an equally ill choice, because it implies going back and forth through 416 large pages every time. However, an aspect that counterbalances is the outstanding quality of the visual imagery in general, and its relationship to text: from the very beginning, one cannot fail to notice the significant contribution the images bring to a profound understanding of the content. Furthermore, some arguments profit greatly from visual support, especially when Bernini is compared to other sculptors.[3]

 The next two essays are closely interconnected, Montanari’s historic approach being in many ways a continuation of Bacchi’s views on concepts. The latter wishes to prove that the quality of Bernini’s concept is the most important basis for determining a sculpture’s value, and not the execution per se. This manifested in the creation of modelli, and underwent an ulterior translation in marble. This logical argumentation leads to the necessity of dividing the modelli in two categories, using an excellent selection of visual examples: modelli piccoli (the small bozzetto and the intermediate modello) and modelli grandi (large-scale models), whose role in Bernini’s workshop illuminates the artist’s creative process. Clearly, the author inclines to give priority to the bozzetti, oeuvres exclusively shaped by Bernini’s own hand, naming them three-dimensional translations of his ideas. Although there are numerous deviations from the main point, they do not constitute an annoyance since Bacchi takes great pains to integrate them in his text. Montanari, on the other hand, adopts a more critical point of view in suggesting that appreciation for clay models began manifesting from 1660s onwards in the circles of art collectors, due to an increasing general interest in figurative sculpture. He also launches several suppositions regarding this aspect,[4] offering a large palette of examples in order to enhance the credibility of his theories. The extensive use of citations, reproduction of fragments and archival details stand as evidence for Montanari’s thorough research and gives the reader a pertinent insight to XVII century reception of clay artworks.

 Finally, the last essay is a response to the main interests that Bernini’s “clay sketches”, as Ostrow calls them, aroused in the academic world. Limited to the beginning of the XX century onwards, the works discussed range in subject from concept to apparent immediacy, aesthetic appeal, but also authenticity or integration of clay sculptures into Bernini’s large oeuvre (in which case they become visual documents). There is a documentary-like feeling to Ostrow’s intention to demonstrate an established tradition of intellectual attention for more than 100 years, which gives the essay a certain allure. However, despite the accompanying review for each of the work cited, the paper is ultimately addressed to Bernini’s researchers and not to the general public.

 The five essays continue with a Visual Glossary, a rather unusual but welcome choice of place. Usually placed at the end of a book, the glossary risks falling into oblivion, as few readers take the trouble of consulting it; here, it is placed in a strategic position, after the essays and before the catalogue entries, a choice from which both parties benefit. Rather than a glossary of art terms, this glossary is a separation in thematic divisions of practices, parts, phenomena or stages in Bernini’s artistic creation.[5] However, the glossary’s introduction seems bizarrely personal and inconsistent with the general discourse of the book; reading it feels more like reading a journal entry, while the only reference to the actual glossary is made in the last sentence.

 The catalogue is by far the most prominent part of the book. It comprises seven sections[6] that are grouped thematically, respecting the chronological order. Each section opens with an image of an iconic work related to the following section, followed by a page of synthesis, outlining the historical, religious and artistic background, and placing Bernini in the context. Unquestionably, the authors propose a systematic uncovering of the exhibition’s items, accessible even remotely, whilst covering as many aspects as possible.

 Among the first elements the reader might remark, are the outstanding quality of the well-employed visual imagery: the dialogue between text and images is impeccable. Moreover, the visual illustration of details, the insertion of drawings, X-radiographs, the presence of microscopic images, arrows that indicate specific details, instructions that draw attention of specific aspects,[7] reconstructions, or comparisons with the originals are proofs of the thoroughness of the research conducted. Furthermore, this preferred method of representation gives the reader an intimate insight to Bernini’s oeuvre, facilitating a full understanding of materiality and working methods, while each object is treated individually. Sometimes the radiographs give additional information towards this modus operandi.[8] On the right hand-side of each entry, opposing the object’s image, one can find technical features about the object: Inscriptions marks and stamps (if appropriate), provenance (a brief history of ownership), Literature, Exhibitions (if appropriate), Conditions (a few remarks on the state of conservation and completeness of the object); this is a very good starting point for an in-depth research. The actual text is descriptive, sometimes engaging in artistic or historic debates, sometimes more technical, engaging in discussions over restoration. Additional notes on the entries can be found at the back, which is, as suggested in the beginning of this essay, an ill decision.

 Attempting to resolve older issues related to Bernini’s clay models (such as attribution) and, at the same time, casting light upon new aspects, the book Bernini: Sculpting in Clay is an important contribution to the research on the artist’s terracotta works that demands significant consideration and transforms


[1] “If we are to understand Bernini fully, we cannot focus exclusively on his finished sculptures. We must […] watch Bernini as he worked.” (Introduction, p. xiv)

[2] For example, numerous dates and facts about Pietro’s life presented in page 6 are unnecessary.

[3] such as Stefano Maderno on page 10, Pietro da Barga or Giambologna.

[4] Such as the one in which he attributes the scarcity of surviving terracotta models to a general disregard for clay sculpture in the XVII century, on one hand, and Bernini’s lack of interest in making small-scale sculpture for private consumption, on the other.

[5] The Subdivisions are listed as follows: Assemble, Bases, Buttresses, Clay and terracotta, Damage and restoration, Examination techniques, Fingerprint analysis, Hollowing, Measuring, pointing and Layout marks, Signature modelling techniques, Stages of work, Surface decoration, Surface textures, Tools and tool marks, X-radiographic evidence.

[6]  The seven sections are: I. Working for the Barberini, II. Fountains, III. Chapels and Saints, IV. Equestrian Monuments, V. Working for the Chigi, VI. The Ponte Sant’Angelo, VII. Altar of the Blessed Sacrament

[7]note separation of hair and neck with a stroke from an oval tip-tool” – cat. 1, p. 115; “note remnant of attached whiskers” – cat. 11, p. 165

[8] A good example is the model for Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, cat. 17, p.198, where the X-ray suggests the head was removed and repositioned for several times during the modelling and this most probably influences the ulterior marble piece