By Tara Judah
Speaking with great fervour, Dutch devotees of Barnett Newman’s large abstract painting, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III (1967), detail their personal and collective pain over Gerard Jan van Bladeren’s knife attack on the painting in 1986. Speaking more passionately still, experts from the art world decry the utter catastrophe that followed when Daniel Goldreyer incompetently restored the work in 1991 using controversial and aesthetically damaging methods. The story is not just well known in The Netherlands, it has become legend and is a collective source of pride-turned-pain as well as one of outward sheer bemusement.
Fascinated by the paradox of restoration as destruction – can something be destroyed twice? – Barbara Visser, in her feature length directorial debut, critically looks at questions of authorship, ownership and ethics within the contemporary museum system. Just who owns a publicly displayed work of art anyway?
Visser’s approach to the infamous story that has etched itself deep into the Dutch national psyche is refreshingly playful, with an acerbic humour underlining its critical core. Employing practice as an analytic tool, Visser commissions a young artist to re-create Newman’s work. The task is Sisyphean. Even if it is possible to finish the work, will the piece be a recreation or something new? And who will it belong to? The results are bittersweet for the artist, but they are deeply rewarding for the viewer, who is now invited to see, first-hand, how the embroiling issues of ownership of public art play out when individuals and egos are involved.
Inventive in its approach, Visser’s autopsy of the art world is full of wry humour, painful honesty and is sure to provoke.
Director: Barbara Visser