What to Buy from Paris, Then and Now
26 3/4 x 39 3/4 inches (each, photo and text) + 6 x 7 3/4 inches (introduction text) / 68 x 101 cm (chaque, photographie et texte) + 15 x 20 cm (texte d'introduction)
Introduction On March 18, 1990, six paintings by Rembrandt, Flinck, Manet and Vermeer, five drawings by Degas, one vase, and one Napoleonic eagle were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The frames of the Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Flinck paintings were left behind. In 1994, after being restored, the empty frames were hung back in place, further emphasizing the painting's absence. i asked the curators, guards, other staff members and visitors to tell me what they saw within these frames. Text When I stand in front of this empty space, I see a woman deep in concentration playing the harpsichord, and the woman on the other side just about to emit a note from her body. And i hear music playing I see a very old wooden frame with no picture in it, and behind it, a brown background, a velvet cloth. That's all there is. There is no reason for this frame to be here. What am I supposed to see? This empty space represents space, just space The picture arises. I contemplate a painting stronger than its absence. If you know this work, you see it better in the velvet than in a reproduction. I see people making music. You are looking at this silent picture but you're aware of music being made in the painting. A lute player with his back to you, a woman at a harpsichord and a woman singing, palpable. In my dreams I mostly see her. I am so attached to her that I should be able to know where she is I don't see much of anything. I see an empty frame, and behind the frame is this very dark fabric. I certainly see a sloemn space. A little bit reproachful I see colors. On the left, the yellow sleeve of the woman, the trapezoidal red shape of the back of the chair and then that blue... I see the luxurious jacket the singer is wearing and the shadowy foreground with that rich, oriental carpet over the table. I see three colors, that sort of dance across the surface. It's red, yellow, blue-it's Mondrian I see flashes of what is supposed to be there. I see The Concert. When I give people a tour, I point and I say : this is The Concert. But there is nothing there. Except a framed space that represents frustration I see a black fabric, a little bit spooky. It says I could put anything I wanted inside the frame, but the blackness seems to be fighting against my desire to imagine something in there I've never seen this picture in person, so I see crime-scene pictures. The frame lying on the floor, in the middle of the room, with broken glass contained within. The chalk line they put around the body-that's what this frame is to me. But it never goes away; you see the body every day It's a sad and nostalgic image. I see textures and nuances. I see this soft lightwashing over the velvet. I see this dark shadow to the right, and this very pale horizontal line across the center. I see this tiny layer of dust, especially on the lower left-hand edge. And of course, because the velvet is so spare and simple. I focus on the frame, the gold-etched outlines of flowers and the larger floral shapes, almost like sunflowers, around the edges. The outside is very charged and the inside is very quiet. And, for whatever reason I have this slight feeling that the frame is looking at me I see a frame that shows an absence. I see something everyone is denied the pleasure of seeing. I see a loss that is just indescribable. I see my impossibility to ever see the real thing Today I just see velvet, but of course there's much more * My job is to bring it back, so I see my failure. I see this void even in my nightmares. There is a car, and, in it, a painting with a plastic bag over it. I take the bag off and it's not the painting that I want. But I know that one day, in the middle of the night, I'll receive a telephone call : Vermeer is back.
Image rights: Courtesy Galerie Perrotin
A controversial figure as well as one of France’s leading conceptual artists, Sophie Calle explores her own psychological and emotional terrain in multimedia works, probing ideas of control, freedom, gender, intimacy, and distance in human relationships. Perhaps her most contentious work, Address Book (1983) was inspired by an address book that Calle found on the street, photographed, and sent back to its owner. She then rang the numbers in the book to assemble a portrait of the owner, turning the results into a multimedia installation. For Take Care of Yourself (2007), which was exhibited in the French pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, Calle invited 107 women from various walks of life to interpret and assess a breakup note the artist received in an email. In a range of media including photographic portraits, textual analysis, and filmed performances, women pore over the emotional content of the email; contributions include a clairvoyant’s response, a scientific study, and a child’s fairytale.
French, b. 1953, Paris, France, based in Malakoff, France
What to Buy from Paris, Then and Now
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