If you haven’t yet paid a visit to Victoria Miro Venice, now’s the time to go. Housed in a 17th century palazzo in the San Marco district, this cutting-edge contemporary art gallery was launched during last year’s Biennale by London-based dealer Victoria Miro – one of the most highly respected figures in the international art world.
The gallery is currently showcasing Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger, whose work Ecce Homo was the first piece to occupy the empty “fourth plinth” in Trafalgar Square in 1999, before being exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2001, when Wallinger was Britain’s representative.
Titled Italian Lessons, the present show includes works that date from 1991 to 2016, reflecting the artist’s life-long engagement with ideas of power, authority, artifice and illusion. Encompassing autobiography and art history, the Lessons of the exhibition title are manifold, referring to Wallinger’s own education and exposure to the Italian Masters as a young student. Equally, the Lessons make reference to the cornerstones of art history – such as the development of perspective and trompe-l’oeil techniques – and the shifts in consciousness they have brought about.
Amongst the highlights of the show is Genius of Venice, 1991, inspired by a blockbuster exhibition that took place at London’s Royal Academy from 1983-4, featuring masterpieces by Venetian artists from 16th century. Seven reproductions from the exhibition catalogue are displayed, each pressed between glass and illuminated from behind by a flickering nightlight to reveal the ghostly presence of an image overleaf. The resulting juxtapositions are uncanny – sacred and profane, young and old age, for example – encouraging the viewer to tease out new interpretations from these ghostly composites.
Another thought-provoking work on view is Ego, 2016, in which Wallinger playfully recreates the almost-touching hands of God and Adam from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. Featuring two iPhone photographs depicting the hands of the artist, the work recreates the gesture in an act of impersonation whose hubris would be arch, were Wallinger’s Ego not an obvious humble reproduction Blu-Tacked to the wall.
Finally, perhaps the most striking work in the show is I am Innocent, 2010, featuring a life-size, double-sided reproduction of Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X, suspended from the ceiling and set in motion so that it spins continuously, to beguiling optical effect. As a creative act, this seems highly irreverent and even satirical (the idea of ‘spin’ and its relation to the construction of image seeming to grow with each revolution). Yet this simple animation nonetheless leaves the Pope’s unnerving gaze, along with Velazquez’s genius and Wallinger’s veneration of the original intact.
As the exhibition brochure observes, “Who is Innocent? Or even innocent? As a comment on individuality and authority, the work, despite its punning title, deals with concepts that seem infinitely complex. Which may, in the end, be one of the abiding “Lessons” of the exhibition, one that offers the viewer the opportunity to view art not in a didactic sense but as a tool to unlock other meanings, to reach their own conclusion.”
“Mark Wallinger. Italian Lessons” is on view at Victoria Miro Venice, Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994, until 10 March 2018.