Where Are the Keys?
July 6 – November 2, 2008
After last summer’s flamboyant, radiant and sunny exhibition given to Avignon by Cy Twombly, with the jubilant title “Blooming, a Scattering of Blossoms and Other Things”, the summer of 2008 is devoted to Scottish artist Douglas Gordon who, as a counterpoint to this explosion of joy worthy of Matisse, presents an altogether more gloomy, sombre, and melancholic show. Floating in the corridors and stairways, the ghosts of Dr. Charcot and the female guinea pigs he used for his studies of hysteria, characters from stories by Edgar Allen Poe, the head of a freshly guillotined man still talking for a few seconds to the coroner, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster, and Oscar Wilde’s emblematic Portrait of Dorian Grey, as handsome and tragic as Goethe’s Faust, the final distorting mirror presented by Douglas Gordon.
Early historical quotes on the subject of ‘cabinets of curiosities’ form the basis of the exhibition: As Lucretia intimated in De Natura Rerum, then Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Montaigne, Pascal, and Alexandre Koyré in his masterwork Du monde clos à l’univers infini, the human body is to be considered as a whole entity, akin to the earth itself. Douglas Gordon has decided to present the museum as a metaphor for this cosmic totality: each room is designed according to parts of the body, palpitating internal organs that generate life or produce humours, as was the belief in medieval times. The brain (the home of the artist’s dreams and all his secrets, with its layers of memory, consciousness and knowledge), the heart, the genitals, an arm, the back of the neck, the fingers, the forehead, skulls, entrails, veins, and drops of blood become a system of branching lines running through the museum, which will be even more of a maze than usual.
This presentation might seem a little elliptical and abstract, but for those who are familiar with Douglas Gordon’s many-facetted work and those who have yet to discover it, suffice to say that the universalist image of an old cabinet de curiosités is combined with a life-size anatomy lesson where, like Leonardo da Vinci, the artist attempts to delve deep into the essence of being, creating a unique and penetrating journey for all of us.