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Hans-Peter Feldmann

Old painting (naked woman laying, with black barrel over the eyes), 2005

Painting | Oil and acrylic on canvas
150 x 110 cm
During a period of his life, Hans-Peter Feldmann devoted part of his time to buying antique paintings at auctions, with a special preference for nineteenth-century portraits. With a subtle gesture he would draw on a clown’s red nose, make the eyes crossed or paint on a bruise or — as in the work shown here — a black bar over the eyes of the figure in one of these unknown and uncatalogued works from the history of art. If there is a constant feature in Feldmann’s work it would be the way all of his images are placed on the same semantic level and assigned the same value, whether they be oil paintings, photocopies, dollar bills or old photos picked up at a flea market. The artist anticipated the inability of our present-day information culture to distinguish and appreciate the value of different pictures, since they all circulate together in a sea of pixels. The title of this work, Old Painting (naked woman laying, with black barrel over the eyes), tells us exactly what it is: ‘an old painting of a nude with a black stripe over her eyes’. Feldmann’s work does not seek to represent anything other than what we see; the trap lies in the fact that we all know some art history. We can all identify the purpose for which the painting was created, because we have seen such paintings countless times and we recognize the style, the brushstrokes and the composition and therefore understand the code in which its message is conveyed. At the same time we recognize here the paradigm act of naughtiness or vandalism which consists in painting over or defacing a work of art.

It is unusual nowadays to come across a censored image. The flood of images circulating on the Internet and especially in the social media has made it impossible to control what can be and cannot be shown. It could almost be said that the black bar over the eyes, a sign of privacy, is now meaningless. This makes Old Painting…, from 2005, look all the more contemporary, ridiculing any last vestige of decorum that may linger on in the age of Instagram. This is not the first time that Feldmann has worked with the female nude and its signification, almost as some kind of Pop trope. In another series, Stamps with Paintings, he put together a collection of postage stamps featuring classic nudes from art history. It is striking to note that most are from countries that enjoyed a modern era marked by interest in the relationship with the Western artistic canon and are currently subject to dictatorial and fundamentalist regimes. The classical and neoclassical tradition in art allowed the representation of the female nude. Now hundreds of millions of pornographic images circulate on the Internet while in a number of countries images of the naked body are taboo. With this gesture, Feldmann reminds us that perception is always relative and conditioned by the socio-political context in which it takes place.

Hans-Peter Feldmann hardly ever gives interviews, believing as he does that not everything can be translated into words. At the same time he is aware of how dangerous images are, perhaps because, as Didi-Huberman has said, they create a different kind of signification, open and outside the canons of reason. Aby Warburg, André Malraux and Pierre Bourdieu introduced the notions of the ‘imaginary museum’, the social uses of photography and the Mnemosyne Atlas, and these concepts may underlie Feldmann’s obsession with collecting things. The relationship between reproduction and original, and his obsession with the conservation and contextualization of artifacts in an iconographic institute are among the constants that can be seen in this work, although it seeks to present itself as just a joke.

Rosa Lleó


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