Curators' concepts : Joseph Leo Koerner

A Hidden God?

This cell displays the iconoclasm implicit in religious images themselves. With the example of Christianity’s central icon, the suffering Christ, it explores the paradox–central to a millenium of European image-making--of visualizing a hidden God: Christ, the perfect image of the Father, rendered invisible in his terrible death. Christ was iconoclastic in many senses: the pagan idols crumbled before him; his disciples martyred themselves rather than honour the emperor’s portrait; his death overturned the equation, made concrete in ancient art, of the beautiful with the good and true; and his suffering mortified vision and visualization itself. And yet, iconoclasts, especially Protestant ones, took special relish in breaking crucifixes. Centered on a sketchbook attributed to Michael Wolgemut, which combine brutal scenes of Christ's torture with scars by a reader angry at the evil figures depicted, this cell juxtaposes images of iconoclastic violence visited on crosses with violent pictures of the crucified Christ. Exhibiting the icon as iconoclasm, it asks, »What does the image-breaker break?«

Face/ Deface

This cell displays iconoclasm in one of its most typical gestures: violence aimed at the face of an image. Abbreviating the attack against the whole effigy, »defacement« [paradoxically] makes the image see alive, and leaves behind a face in the spectacle of the broken idol. This cell therefore exhibits defacements as faces and faces as defacements: faces of God, especially the so-called Holy Face, but in its dual incarnation as beautiful [ideal portrait likeness of Christ] and ugly [portraits of the suffering Christ]; icons that evidence attacks on the faces of the represented persons; metaphorical defacements, especially in anti-Catholic visual propoganda; and finally, »evidentiary« faces, in which a portrait claims to capture character [good or bad] through the likeness of a person’s features. Through this constellation, a kinship between the image-makers and the image-breakers will come into focus.

The Altar Stripped Bare

This cell displays an exemplary iconoclastic spectacle or rather, anti-spectacle: the altar stripped of images. For Protestants from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, reforming the Christian church meant cleansing its places, and the crucial removal was of all those things that made the church a special place, namely, the altar and its sacred objects and ornaments. The plain altar table was not only the result but also the visible symbol of iconoclasm; as such, it became an image like those it replaced. This cell recollects the pre-iconoclastic altar, as a place both of presences [through display there of eucharist, relic, image, and priesthood] and of absences [e.g., through its symbolism as Christ’s empty tomb]; and it pairs these with the paradoxical images that ensue when the altar is stripped bare.


+ Biography

Joseph Leo Koerner

Art Historian, Professor at the Department of History of Art at University College London

After having studied Philosophy, English and German literature at Yale, Cambridge and Heidelberg, Joseph Leo Koerner started working in the field of Art History with his study about Caspar David Friedrich and focused his research on German painting from the Renaissance to contemporary art. From 1989 to 1999 he held the chair for Northern European Art from 1300 until present times at the University of Harvard and lectured Art History and the history of architecture. In 2000 he lectured at the Department of Art History at the University of Frankfurt. He has taught as Professor for the History of Art at the University College London since 2001. In 1992 he received the Mitchell Prize for the History of Art.

Among his most important publications are:
The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art [Chicago 1993], and Caspar David Friedrich: Landschaft und Subjekt [Munich 1998] Caspar David Friedrich and the subject of landscape [New Haven 1990], Hans Baldung Grien: Buchholzschnitte aus Augsburger Beständen; cat. Maximilianmuseum Augsburg 1992; The printed world of Pieter Bruegel, the elder, cat. Cambridge 1995.



curatorial concept
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Peter Galison
Dario Gamboni
Joseph Leo Koerner
Bruno Latour

Adam Lowe
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Peter Weibel

Hans Belting
Boris Groys
Denis Laborde
Marie-José Mondzain
Heather Stoddard

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Last update: Tuesday, April 23, 2002 at 3:26:05 PM.