Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Greenaway Reconstructs Leonardo's Last Supper


Peter Greenaway's Installation Art Captures Melbourne

Leonardo's Last Supper has come to Melbourne for the International Arts Festival this year. It's one of Peter Greenaway's image technology installation art projects. It follows the success of his multimedia event 'Rembrandt's The Nightwatch at the Rijksmuseum' in Amsterdam in 2006.

Greenaway calls these art forms, "speculative painting-cinema dialogues". Greenaway has reinvented himself as a new Da Vinci. Had Leonardo been alive today, "an investigation into the continuity and correspondence between the language of painting and the language of cinema would have been obligatory for him".

Da Vinci Cloned

Unfortunately it could not be the original masterpiece. However the reproduction is cleverly forged, in both senses of the word. It is claimed to be, "a perfect, three-dimensional sculptural clone of Milan's crumbling, 510-year-old chapel wall and painting."

The half hour show alternates between caressing and interrogating the painting. The micro-accuracy of the the video projections is astounding. Today's audio-visual presentations are certainly light-years ahead of the old slide projectors.

Is Cinema dead?

Ground-breaking film director Greenaway declared cinema dead as early as 2003. This seeming about-face may have been a consequence of his 1999 movie, and perhaps last true cinema production, 8 1/2 Women. It received a drubbing from most reviewers at the time.

His cinema triumphs include the beautiful The Draughtsman's Contract where his early training as a painter brought magnificent scene scapes to this period piece. Drowning by Numbers drew on his skills as a film editor in constructing its elaborate storyline. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife & her Lover became a cult movie very quickly. The Pillow Book is perhaps his best film, as he mixed media to telling effect. It weaves traditional Chinese and Japanese poetry and calligraphy into an exploration of sensuality by its extensive use of body painting.

Last Supper Highlights

There are many highlights during the half-hour with Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles. The exploration of the hands is particularly striking. The opposite wall hosts a cascade of highly detailed close-ups of the painting's grainy texture. It reveals a fascinating perspective that is
usually hidden from an audience. The painting itself started to disintegrate not long after it was finished in the 1490s. Since the effects of numerous restorations have been removed, The Last Supper is now close to the original except of course for its fragmented state.

The audience crowds around a table of food and drink dividing the installation room. Bread and wine are the essentials.

Nine Classic Paintings Revisited

The other art works in the proposed Nine Classic Paintings Revisited series are: Veronese's The Wedding At Cana, Picasso's Guernica, Velasquez's Las Meninas, Seurat's La Grande Jatte, Monet's The Water Lilies - Nympheas, Jackson Pollock's One: Number 31, and Michelangelo's The Last Judgement.

For the multitudes that can't attend one of the original venues, hopefully there will be traveling versions that match the high quality of this Melbourne event.

Peter Greenaway is performing the last rites for the cinema a little prematurely. But it's a performance that's well worth attending.

(This article first appeared on Associated Content)
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