The National Gallery explores artistic damage in a new exhibition of sculptures

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An unusual exhibition has opened at the National Gallery, examining when paintings come under attack and whether they need to be repaired afterwards.

Paintings sometimes attract people who attack them, sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for fame, and sometimes because the voices have told them so – and the art is hastily covered up and restorers spend months repairing the paintings. damage.

“Artist in Residence” of the National Gallery, Ali Cherri has looked into this and his exhibition raises the question of whether this damage must be repaired or whether it is an essential element in the history of painting. He is particularly interested in the emotional response to attacks, as people recoil in horror, often comparing an attack on art to an attack on a living person.

It’s a doubly unusual exhibition, as galleries are usually reluctant to show the damage, but the National Gallery is also home to two-dimensional art, painting and drawing, but here Cherri has created a set of sculptures to the place. A series of cabinets each showing their interpretation of how an individual work of art has been attacked. The sculpture reflects the damaged paint.

Attacks on art tend to be famous, and one of the most famous was in 1914 by “slasher mary”, who took a meat cleaver from Diego Velasquez’s Rokeby Venus. Descriptions given at the time of the damage to the painting described the painting in vivid terms, like a victim with cruel wounds and ragged bruises. In response, Cherri created a wooden depiction of the decapitated Venus, more of an ancient fertility goddess, but with slashes across her body. The head, a marble sculpture looks at itself in a mirror.

Rembrandt is here, like a distorted wax sculpture of his head, hanging more like shrunken heads, tsantsa created by some tribes as a warning to people. A pedestal looks classic, but above it, rather grotesque in form and fact, is a stuffed lamb that died of severe congenital defects, stillbirth as a metaphor for the damage done to Poussin’s golden calf.

One of the more curious exhibits took the “blue” caused by a single shot on Leonardo’s Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John, and amplified it massively into something more like an abstract pottery plate. The logs for the day the attack took place are next to the gunshot. The Leonardo cartoon that was attacked is in an adjoining room. The attack has long been covered up.

Individually, they are interesting works of sculpture, but the story they tell gives them added gravitas.

Hopefully it also opens a debate about whether the art should be repaired if it is attacked, or if this moment should be preserved as a living part of the long life of the art.

The exhibition, If you sting us, don’t we bleed? is at the National Gallery until June 12, 2022 and admission is free.

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