The philosophy of bowls in Dresden’s ruined castle of the Electors

Anna Somers Cocks on “The Things of Life/The Life of Things [Franco Vimercati]”, Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), Dresden, until 27 July

Franco Vimercati's “The Things of Life/The Life of Things”

A supremely elegant exhibition has opened on the piano nobile of the semi-derelict castle in Dresden of the Electors of Saxony (until 27 July). No one has visited these rooms for 70 years, which barely survived the bombing on 13,14 and 15 February 1945.

It is an exhibition of the photographs of the Italian, Franco Vimercati, who died in 2001. His studies, all in black and white, are of glasses, bottles, but most often a battered soup bowl of vaguely antique appearance, which he presents in every gradation of shadow and definition. He once said, “Unfortunately, in photography you can’t help having a subject,” but he does his best to make one see beyond its bald characteristics.

The exhibition has been curated by the philosopher Wolfgang Scheppe, who has vested the images with the words of one of the most difficult theoreticians of art history, the American George Kubler, who published a treatise in 1962 that had a great influence on artists such as Robert Smithson and Donald Judd.

In The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, Kubler tried to abolish the notion of stylistic evolution and explained changing artistic form in terms of response to changing circumstances, a kind of anthropological approach. For him, therefore, objects become the portrait of a collective identity, a shape of time that reaches us like the light of a dead star, to quote one of his phrases.

To embellish and illustrate this concept, a long row of bowls, of earthenware, porcelain and natural shell, of every shape, finish and age, is laid out on open display in front of the wall with the photographs. This break with the museum rule of locking everything away is shocking and makes the objects seem much more real, even risky. There is no artificial lighting. The bowls dominate the room with its fine proportions but crumbling walls, and with the photographs they constitute a true Gesamtkunstwerk—for once an appropriate use of the word.

UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended until 24 August.

Published Tue, 06 May 2014 15:16:00 GMT

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