En route from St. Petersburg to Berlin, September 20th, 2003
I'm not quite sure where you are - and I'm definitely unsure of where I should be. Coming from somewhere, going elsewhere. Or vice versa.
I thought, I may have wanted, to drop you a line, of some sort, a letter perhaps, in vague terms, to reassure you, therefore me, and others, over anxieties experienced, alluded to, remembered from before, respected however, in lieu of service, in advance of, in disguise or otherwise, in tandem with, sometimes solo, never alone, surrounded by friends, absent by need, and so on; regarding your invitation to work.
Somehowever, I should tell you that I just left the weather of St. Petersburg behind. Nothing too much more to say through my frozen fingers taptaptapping on the typewriter keys. However, I just saw a painting which could well be the keystone for the exhibition we've been discussing for Berlin in 2005.
The painting is by Perugino, or Pietro Vannucci, one and the same, or maybe not. It's a 15th century portrait of St. Sebastian; as beautiful an image as I've laid eyes on, but all the more curious for the composition and detail; unlike most other images I've seen, the Perugino concentrates only on the upper torso of Sebastian, it's almost like a detail of another painting, or even more like a production still taken from a bigger movie. Also, there is only one dart piercing the body, straight into the boys neck, and carrying the appalling detail of the artists own signature on the shaft of the arrow.
I don't know what to think; allegory or vanity?
Lets at least ask the Hermitage Museum if they might consider a loan of the work for our show.
Hope this reaches you in sunnier climes than I'm experiencing. Lets speak soon about my broader ideas for the exhibition. If we can secure the loan of the Perugino, then I'd like to think about leaping from the 15th century directly to the 20th, and then into the 21st. In the meantime let's dream about mirrors, time travel, moving images, still images, fakes, mirages, truths, lies, vanity, deception, allegory, the museum, the cinema, the theatre, the bedroom, et al.
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Douglas Gordon. born 1966, lives and works in Glasgow and New York
Douglas Gordon, Proposal for a Posthumous Portrait, 2004
© 2005 Douglas Gordon,
Photo by David Heald
Robert Mapplethorpe, Skull, 1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Jeff Koons, Louis XIV, 1986
© 2005 Jeff Koons
Douglas Gordon, staying home and going out, 2005
© 2005 Douglas Gordon, Photo by David Heald
New York City, 30 September 2003
Many thanks for your letter. It is always good to hear from you. I’m here and just beginning to think about the project in Berlin myself, so your timing is perfect. I see what you mean about the Perugino painting. I looked it up on the Hermitage website (do you know you can buy a San Sebastian tee-shirt in their gift shop?) and it is beautiful, provocative, and wonderfully perverse. The signature on the arrow sets off a chain of associations—from the fine line between violence and eroticism (the dart/name penetrates its subject) to the narcissism of the artist. Could it be that the painting—which aestheticizes ecstasy and sexualizes religion—is really a veiled self-portrait of Pietro Vannucci? Why else would he place his signature so prominently, so aggressively? Perugino is clearly proclaiming his authorship, but, at the same time, his relationship to the subject is strangely intimate. As you point out, it is difficult to say where the allegory (about martyrdom, spiritual salvation, mortality) ends and vanity begins—or could it be the other way around?
So now we have a starting point, even if we can’t get the loan of the painting. Are you proposing an exhibition of diverse works that illuminate the intersecting themes of vanity, self-representation, and deception? This could be filtered through the genre of vanitas, an allegorical meditation on the ephemerality of earthly existence. What, after all, is self-representation than a quest for immortality? I see skulls and mirrors (but not the rotting fruit and shellfish). Deception is always fun; I imagine a lot of mutable identities, shifting performances of the self. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think your work has its share of such slippages—hidden portraits of the artist that, in the end, conceal their subject.
Will you include your own work, or will the exhibition be, in and of itself, a work by you?
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Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Read following articles about the exhibition at www.db-artmag.com, Deutsche Bank's online art magazine:
feature // Interview Douglas Gordon
List of artists
Francis Ford Coppola
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Cerith Wyn Evans
Cerith Wyn Evans, TIX3, 1996
© Cerith Wyn Evans, Photo by Stephen White