Yesterday was spent pondering Peter Greenaway’s most recent foray into classic painting redux.. a video installation recreating Leonardo’s “Last Supper” at the 67th Street Armory in New York City.
Last time we saw Greenaway, he was setting Venice ablaze with a spectacular ode to the “Wedding at Cana,” a victory lap for hometown hero Veronese. Now, the series comes stateside, and the debate rages on over Greenaway’s productions. Is this a populist spectacle bringing about a new consciousness to Old Masters- born out, of what Randy Kennedy recently wrote (link below) “a desire to revive a visual literacy he believes modern eyes have lost when looking at paintings,” or a Hollywood style debasement of the originals?
In the ADD age that we live in, does Greenaway’s agenda miss the point of really appreciating monumental masterpieces for how they actually are? Or does it help to heighten their presence? Such questions are all the more pressing with a work like “The Last Supper,” whose irreversible decay is closing the window of opportunity to fully appreciate it in person.
As Holland Cotter wrote in his review of the Armory show (link below):
“There’s no question that at a time when a museum visit can mean little more than snapping pictures on the run, persuading people to stop and look is a good thing. But the question becomes whether jumpily edited copies of paintings are an improvement over jumpy viewers.”
You’d have to think that William Blake, who turned 253 two Sundays ago, would be cheering these larger than life recreations on, regardless of how the purist establishment receives them. Blake, after all, was the ultimate embodiment of such a paradoxical contrast- embracing the Classicist tradition while lampooning against the art historical establishment of his time.
His vivid parade of poetry and prophecy was spurred forward by the precision and exaggeration found in the Mannerism of artists like Michelangelo and Raphael. In these men, the beautiful potential of the humanist spirit that was at Blake’s core could be found in full bloom. His picturing of “Urizen” (see image #4) for example, wouldn’t seem that out of place somewhere within Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, both unforgettable instances where the power of the gospel collides with a liberated imagination.