BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 13 JUN 05
Featured in
Issue 92

Matts Leiderstam

BY Ronald Jones in Reviews | 13 JUN 05

Matts Leiderstam’s transformation of one of the great and most ostentatious cultural dinosaurs – the European Grand Tour – into a form of contemporary ‘experience design’ succeeds without sacrificing its original themes of myth, truth and desire. Leiderstam has been assembling this taxonomy of masterpieces and innuendo for eight years. In the Magasin 3 version his Grand Tour combines evidence room with reading-room. Old-fashioned and state-of-the-art instruments for art-historical sleuthing stand at the ready on 15 identical study tables. There are dozens of exhibition catalogues and books, magnifying glasses for examining tiny details, light-boxes with large transparencies of paintings, two easels with pictures resting on them, a panorama of hung canvases, three computer monitors, a slide projector and, in case the need should arise, a field telescope, making it possible to scrutinize a picture in detail from some distance.
Just surveying the staggering volume of material presented by Leiderstam gives an idea of the expectations he has of his audience; nothing less than total devotion en petites doses. The scope of his challenge dwarfs the bookish aspirations once held for their audiences by Joseph Kosuth and Hans Haacke. Commitment is the artist’s ultimatum – play it my way or leave with nothing, a throw-back to the days when content could not be exhausted on contact.
Moving through a few study stations in Grand Tour, it became transparent that Leiderstam’s true ambition was to construct a war room for Queer Studies. For any war room to perform with integrity, it is imperative that every information stream that might possibly affect the shape of future decisions is left open. The value of diverse information sources lies in their ability to be measured one against the other; the reliability of some dismisses the mere ‘chatter’ provided by others as sketchy and incomplete. In this case the artist does not hope to determine truth, but rather to open up an essential means for evolving and refining a world-view: unanticipated knowledge.
People tend to tour Leiderstam’s war room anticlockwise, which means that the first study station encountered is devoted to Hubert Robert (1733–1808), a painter under the spell of Jean-Antoine Watteau, François Boucher and especially Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Although a lesser figure than his influences, Robert was employed by Voltaire as a set designer for his theatre at Ferney, and his picture presented here, The Painter’s Studio, from about 1764, demonstrates something of his talent for scenography. Leiderstam has, as faithfully as possible, re-painted Robert’s picture, but with one small yet psychologically significant alteration. Whereas Robert depicts his artist captivated by a Classical male statue as he sketches in his furiously unkempt studio, Leiderstam provides a more subjective portrait; head turned, the artist looks out to give us a delicately knowing expression, as if acknowledging some latent truth. The question naturally arising from Leiderstam’s small but notable revision is what Robert might have wished to acknowledge that he did not, or could not, in his own canvas. Perhaps his admiration for the Classical proportions of the nude male went beyond a mere appreciation of art?

Ronald Jones is on the faculty of the Royal College of Art, London, and a regular contributor to this magazine.