Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum host a exhibition with social commentary on art history and modern art
In a daring 2013 exhibition titled Concealed Spaces, Jose Manuel Ballester, a Spanish artist, recreates digital prints of many famous Renaissance pieces but with one key difference. This difference is extremely easy to spot: there are no people in it.
No cherubic visions, not a single dancing, praying or sitting religious or mythological figure in light or shadow. The bare bones of the original setting in chilling detail laid bare for our unwilling gaze to view. It’s unsettling to me in so many aspects as seems antithetical to the definition of the Renaissance period which celebrated humanism and the recreating of the human form in its accuracy and celebrating it’s beauty.
Plagues and pandemics throughout art history
Alexandra McDermott Brown in her piece for Ensemble had concisely made a eerie and concise connection to Ballester’s pieces as being roughly akin to the 2020 COVID pandemic. This could also be historically linked to how the Black Plague’s (1330-1352) arrival in England in 1348 helped kickstart the societal changes necessary to truly support the birth of the Renaissance period in the first place.
What is this artist trying to tell us? Can a story be told in a scene without characters? Is this what ill-fortune can bring us in a new chapter of humanity where there is only God’s creation but nothing to live amongst its splendor?
“I transferred the empty spaces that I portrayed in my urban landscapes to the world of classical painting,” Ballester commented on his process in an article for ArtNet.
In all aspects of what makes pop culture a truly vibrant and visceral experience, we can see how the most important period of art history can be achieved in a way many can appreciate in a widespread manner through this digital representation.
Though the message of these intense scenes I feel have been altered, it seems as though we can still somehow connect to them inherently in a way that can reach a large degree of people in a small amount of time via the internet. Especially during the lock-down periods of the spikes in the COVID-19 pandemic, to be able to have such an free access to new expressions of art so readily available in a safe way at home was a safe haven for art lovers and family members wanting to give their children access to new and old culture.
Two unique pieces by Da Vinci stripped of their humanity
In a ghostly version of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Ballester is leaving us with a bare table with the food and plates still placed meticulously where Jesus and his twelve apostles had originally sat. This scene is told in the Gospel of John and it is very integral and human scene, a dramatic and emotional point of view in which Jesus announces which of his apostles will betray him.
In this scene that Ballester creates in Last Supper, it is devoid of Jesus and his apostles, many questions remain. Was this piece developed to represent the aftermath of this dramatic announcement by Jesus? Is it to show how the table looked once the last apostle left the room and the supper was concluded? Is it before they arrived and the food was placed on the table by one of his apostles in preparation for the supper?
Perhaps it is meant to strip away the religious stories and create a new story, a story we have lived and are all living now. The echoes and hallowed out cries of our solitary existence that our own pandemic has grieved upon us.
This is a mystery as the artist does not go on social media and in general has a limited online digital imprint.
In Annunciation, also by Leonardo Da Vinci, the scene is again bare bones and the angel and the Virgin Mary are nowhere in sight. These quite beautiful and picturesque displays evoke shadow and warmth, of a memory that could’ve been or might’ve been, and most of all, an estranged sense of something that is missing.
How early Renaissance art was distributed and displayed to the modern expression of Renaissance digital media
I find the expansion of Renaissance religious expression in a digital format to be a very smart and thoughtful way to keep this timeless period of history alive for the younger generations. As we can tell from art history, much of the early Renaissance art was commissioned by the wealthy families in Florence, mainly the Medici family.
Brunelleschi, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, and Michelangelo were among the talent who, by the Medici family(wealthy bankers and three popes), were kept on retainer for their valuable time and mastery of shadow and light.
If a visitor, tourist or commoner of Florence had been interested to see these works of art, I am quite sure it would have been a long process of getting through channels of connections and contacts before you could see such unveilings of magnificent splendor. Even if it were as easy as simply going to the Medici Chapel, the family palace and family tomb wherein they presented many of the pieces of the artist’s works, it certainly is the golden age of technology to be able to click a link or clip and instantly be able to enrich our artistic repertoire with the widely spread digitized prints online.
Overall, I feel the impression that pop culture can relate to the masterful techniques of the early to late Renaissance period is a dutiful one and something incredibly important to art history.
I feel that the youth can be reached with these new expressions and interpretations of the timeless works of art the old masters have created. It also can lead the youth down the rabbit hole of history to get back to the original roots to discover these absolutely gorgeous masterpieces in the first place.