“The Purloined Masterpiece. Images as Time Machines” at A…kademie der bildenden Künste Wien Kunstsammlungen, Vienna

“The Purloined Masterpiece. Images as Time Machines” takes a digressive tour through art history from the 15th century to the present day, as reflected in the art collections of the Academy of Fine Arts. In the process, it addresses 17th-century theories of pictorial representation, such as those of Samuel van Hoogstraten, as well as considerations from present-day media theory that are a consequence of technological transformation and how this has been reflected in image generation.

The title of the exhibition comes from a commingling of E.A. Poe’s detective story The Purloined Letter about a stolen letter that goes unnoticed in plain sight and Honoré de Balzac’s novella The Unknown Masterpiece (Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu), which explores the imagination and the limits of representability: “The aim of art is not to copy nature, but to express it!” the old Master Frenhofer proclaims in the novella. Moreover, the novella features figures such as Peter Paul Rubens, Nicolas Poussin and François Porbus, all of whom are represented in the Paintings Gallery collection. Questions of representation, appropriation, mimesis and (optical) deception play a role in both narratives, although in opposing terms, along with the question of how to define “mastery” when it comes to grasping reality.

In addition to these themes, successive rooms in the exhibition showcase the metaphor of the seascape and its territorial-political representation—the ship and the sea. The period on the cusp of courtly and bourgeois concepts of society, the implications of proto-industrialisation for class relations and living conditions play a key role here along with related ambiguous figures of exclusion and status satires. Nudes and depictions of Mary come into play, as do the contrasting poles of the Dionysian and Apollonian or Gothic transcendence.

Typologies, fluid transitions and subject constitutions are displayed and put up for discussion on a stage replete with surprising correlations and radical juxtapositions in a spirit of viewing art through the prism of “family resemblances” and correspondences or connections despite all the historical conditioning produced and established over the centuries. At the same time, the exhibition marks the beginning of a series of attempts to use museum presentation to pose questions about the tasks of mediating between old and new art in museums and to continue a debate that has been going on for some years around concepts of the transhistorical, the “metabolic” and the “radical museum.”

Participating artists:
Albrecht Altdorfer, Philips Angel van Middelburg, Cornelis Bega, Johann Christian Friedrich, Wilhelm Beyer, Abraham van Beyeren, Quirin Boel, Hieronymus Bosch, Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi known as Botticelli, Dieric Bouts, Jacques Callot, Daniel Chodowiecki, Joos van Cleve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Anthony van Dyck, Antonio da Fabriano, Barent Fabritius, Florentine Painter, Jan Fyt, Jan van Goyen, Hans Baldung Grien, Joris van der Haagen, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Jan van Huysum, Johann Kupetzky, Johann Baptist von Lampi the Younger, Claude Gelée, known as Lorrain, Master of the Austrian Forelands, Master of the Von Groote Adoration, Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine (Circle), Netherlandish Master, Martin van Meytens, Michael van Mierevelt, Jan Miense Molenaer, Monogrammist H. P., Jacobea Maria van Nikkelen, Adriaen van Ostade, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob van Ruisdael, Rachel Ruysch, Roelant Savery, Jacopo del Sellaio, Laurenz Spenning, attributed, Pierre Subleyras, David Teniers the Younger, Anna Dorothea Therbusch, Wigerus Vitringa, Simon de Vlieger, Cornelis van der Voort, attributed after Rogier van der Weyden, Franz Zächerle, Reinier Nooms, known as Zeeman.
Martin Beck, Anna-Sophie Berger / Teak Ramos, Marcel Broodthaers, Lili Dujourie, VALIE EXPORT, Rodney Graham, Ulrike Grossarth, Albert Paris Gütersloh, Marcello Maloberti, Willem Oorebeek, Jeroen de Rijke / Willem de Rooij, Klaus Scherübel, Allan Sekula, Paul Sietsema, Laurence Sturla.

at A…kademie der bildenden Künste Wien Kunstsammlungen, Vienna
until January 29, 2023

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