(This text was originally published on Artzine, March 2013)
The National Gallery has recently closed its doors to a discussed and controversial exhibition: Seduced by art.
For the first time in more then 150 years one of the most important and renowned Museums in the world, which hosts one of the most refined collections of classical paintings is ‘seduced’ by photography.
The show uncovers with a miserable copy of the stunning Death of Sardanapalus (1827), which conveys the figure of the last King of Assyria in an even more cowardly manner. As if that were not enough, among the best contemporary photographers works, Jeff Wall’s light-boxed, Destroyed Room (1978), and Tom Hunter’s Death of Coltelli (2009), are placed on the side.
The exhibition is grouped in a precise order, one room completely dedicated to portrait, another one is consecrating the human figure and in which Richard Learoyd’s Man with Octopus Tattoo (2011) is the master. The comparison with the Valpincon Bather (1806) by Ingres is unavoidable.
One Flesh by Helen Chadwick reinvents Madonna and Child clearly evoking an Italian altarpiece. The artist herself is the “Madonna”, with her head surmounted by the placenta and in the act of cutting her baby daughter’s umbilical cord. But far from being outrageous, it is instead a strongly and poignant representation of motherhood and femininity.
The following room is dedicated to still life, where the Ori Gersht’s Blow up: Untitled 5 (2007) ends in an explosion. Video of dead flowers and rotten fruit surround the scenario.
The last room is dedicated to landscape and could no miss references to Turner and Constable.
So what does the curator want to demonstrate with this bold exhibition? Perhaps to remark on the numerous ways in which these classic paintings might still translate into reality?
We all thank and appreciate that photography has become part of everyday. An instance can be immortalised, by anyone, all historical facts can be seen and accounted and all our personal lives can be remembered and become part of our heredity; but, as Modern critical orthodoxy would say: there is a reason if the most renowned images of the last 150 years are not photographs but paintings.
Photography is announced here as works of art of equal stature as the past masters in this exhibition, hung side by side. However the jury is still out on whether a photograph can command the same depth and the sense of touch, that a painting possesses.