by Lucas Cuturi
The catalyst that led Franziska Maderthaner’s to tackle a series titled What Remains? was the flood of shocking reports about the destruction of diverse artworks, artifacts and workshops by the terrorist militia Islamic State (ISIS). On account of this news, Maderthaner asked herself what art would remain if ISIS actually succeeded in holding the Western world hostage and, as a consequence, had free access to all art institutions. Due to the iconoclasm of ISIS, based on the ban of images of Islam, however, exclusively in regard to the portrayal of Allah and his prophet Mohammed, ISIS would, presumably, in preemptory obedience, destroy all non-Muslim works of art. ISIS would label these as decadent Western art, making them targets of religiously and morally motivated purges, and therefore to be destroyed by ISIS or at least damaged beyond recognition. Bearing this thought in mind, Maderthaner developed, for her part, a fictional notion of how our society would react to this horror scenario: what measures would museums, collectors, preservationists of historic monuments and caretakers of art take to get the works of art, to safety, especially those works with erotic content, either painting or sculpture? Some would likely be hidden in remote houses.
At some point, after the fighting died down and the hiding spots were long forgotten, survivors, stumbling upon them accidently, might confront these artworks—in dilapidated and neglected houses, at long since abandoned places.
On the one hand, Maderthaner is interested in visualizing these fictional scenes, on the other, in shifting the context by reproducing these artworks of inestimable value for art history in a seemingly undignified ambiance. For this purpose, primarily using the internet, the artist searched for abandoned or neglected spaces. After taking some time to let the sites of dilapidation work on her, she associated them with works of art in her memory that were similar in formal, but also content-related, aspects. In a concrete planning phase, Maderthaner constructed, by means of digital image-editing programs, her utopian scenarios and, in a further step, put them down on paper. To give it all an additional touch of transience, Maderthaner did not use oil paint, but opted for water color painting—a technique employed in earlier days before the advent of photography, predominantly by the nobility and upper bourgeoisie, mainly on journeys, to render situations or impressions as quickly as possible.
In her watercolors, as in many of her oil paintings, the artist makes references to notable works of art history. Here, however, for the most part, to those with erotic content, such as Édouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1863), which made headlines because it was rejected by the Paris Salon. Nevertheless, this work later served not only as a template to advertise different products, but was adopted and interpreted anew by famous representatives of art history such as Pablo Picasso, who can, by the way, also be found in Maderthaner’s Ark. Also Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World, painted in 1866, one of the first prominent works depicting female genitals, would presumably not be spared by ISIS.
Another watercolor in the series shows a room with a wall of boards which Maderthaner associates and accordingly combines with the image of Ema, painted in 1966 by Gerhard Richter. A successful bon mot by the artist, since Richter’s work itself was an interpretation of the 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp.
Maderthaner’s series What remains? should not only be viewed as a documentation of famous artworks of an erotic nature, but is also like a stroll through the history of art, where the artist forges a bridge from the Renaissance to the present.
The list of artists that Maderthaner refers to here reads like a “Who´s Who” of art history. She deals with, in alphabetical order, works from Balthus, Bouchet, Bouguereau, Courbet, Ernst, Freud, Gauguin, Hopper, Ingres, Magritte, Manet, Matisse, Modigliani, Moore, Pechstein, Picasso, Rembrandt, Richter, Tizian, van Gogh, Wesselman and Velásquez.