concepts : Dario Gamboni
Image to Destroy, Indestructible Image
Picturing the destruction of pictures
Quite a few images represent people attacking images. They may be based on actual events witnessed by their authors but they always go beyond mere documentation. They include a reflection on what it means to damage or destroy a picture, a monument, a work of art, and they suggest reasons why this is done. Normally, they take sides for the objects under attack and condemn their assailants. This is not surprising, because the artists who created them were themselves involved in the production of images. But this condemnation can also express the point of view of the public at large, who has come to regard the intentional degradation of cultural property as a barbaric and irrational form of behaviour.
What is to be done with political monuments?
It is easier to understand why political monuments are targeted. When a regime is challenged or toppled, the buildings and statues it has erected come under attack as instruments and symbols of its power. Their function is not lost but transformed; their fragments are often preserved and turned into souvenirs, relics, and new monuments. This happened to the Paris Bastille in 1789, and to the Berlin Wall two hundred years later. But many fear that the removal of political monuments destroys collective memory and may lead to repeating the same mistakes rather than learning from them. And others suggest that what is currently rejected as propaganda may turn out to have been art after all.
»Vandals« against »Iconoclasts«
Industrial and post-industrial societies have kept destroying huge parts of their material heritage in the name of progress. In the arts, the ideal of the wiped slate and the rejection of past tradition has inspired the »iconoclasm« of the avant-garde. Not only have artists appropriated reproductions of older works and created self-destroying happenings, but some have turned against originals and claimed the destruction of art to be art. Meanwhile, more or less »involuntary« or ill-prepared visitors, confronted with modern art in museums and in public space, have sometimes expressed their rejection physically and been labelled »vandals«. But the »iconoclast« and the »vandal« can be closer than they think and. In some recent works, the destruction of images becomes a theme again and invites us to pause and reflect upon the urge to destroy and the need to preserve.
Professor for Art History, Department of Art History, University of Amsterdam
Dario Gamboni was born 1954 in Yverdon [Switzerland]. He studied Art History in Lausanne and Paris. In 1989 he obtained his doctorate in Art History from the University of Lausanne. Besides curating numerous exhibitons, he lectured at the University of Zurich, and the University of Strasbourg. From 1991 until 1998 he was Professor of Art History at the University of Lyon II, from 1993 until 1998 member of the Institut Universtaire de France, in 1996 Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and from 1998 until 2000 Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities at the Department of Art History and Art of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He has taught as professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Amsterdam since 2000.
He has published numerous books, mainly on nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, with an emphasis on the social history of art, reception studies, art and literature, art criticism, symbolism, religious art and iconoclasm.
Among his most important publications are:
Un iconoclasme moderne. Théorie et pratiques contemporaines du vandalisme artistique [Zurich and Lausanne 1983], La plume et le pinceau. Odilon Redon et la littérature [Paris 1989] and The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution [New Haven and London 1997]; Louis Rivier (1885- 1963) et la peinture religieuse en Suisse romande, Lausanne: Payot, 1985;
La géographie artistique (Ars helvetica. Arts et culture visuels en Suisse, vol. I), Disentis: Desertina, 1987;
Emblèmes de la liberté. L'image de la république dans l'art du XVIe au XXe siècle [co-edited with Georg Germann], catalogue of the 21st exhibition of the Council of Europe), Berne: Stämpfli, 1991.