Two exhibits across the European continent linking together a narrative built over three centuries. An eighth of a Venetian painting, half a car, two Noh masks, a photograph of a pedigree; between original and representation, masquerade and deception, ‘A-A’; B-B’’ reflects on the power of curation to alter audience perception.
Walking through the doors of the Modern Institute, one may be confused by what they are seeing. For those who are familiar with Simon Starling’s work, the staticity of the objects before them may be disconcerting, and it is only as one is informed of the narrative that brings together the whole, that the materials become endowed with a life of their own; past and present intertwine, weaving together a narrative that re-unites place and time.
In the far end of the gallery, a photographic representation of a fraction of a Venetian painting sits on the wall next to a blue Fiat, from which a part is also missing. Two Noh masks are placed on both side of the display. These masks are characterized by their lack of emotion and were worn by performers in traditional Japanese theatre. Both are adorned with Starling’s own hand, cast in plaster, and highlight a larger concern with masquerades. The first mimics the Halberdier character in the painting, while the other holds a copy of Dario Foh’s ‘Trumpets and Raspberries’ (1974), a satirical play in which the kidnapping of Italian industrialist Giovanni Agnelli, who lived from 1921 to 2003, takes center stage.
Agnelli was also the titleholder of ‘A Halberdier in a Landscape’: the smaller portion of the 18th century oil painting ‘The Finding of Moses’ (1730), by Giambattista Tiepolo, which was split in two by its original owner to accommodate the walls of his home. Despite his fortune, Agnelli drove around Turin in a modest Fiat 125 to show his empathy for the common people.
By replicating ‘A Halberdier in a Landscape’ and Agnelli’s car at the Modern Institute, Starling transposes the past into the present to open a conversation about division. The decision to cut into the Fiat mimics the severing of ‘The Finding of Moses’, and by simultaneously reuniting the missing halves at the Galleria Franco Nuero in Turin, the artist reminds the audience of the present discord in the UK.
Nevertheless, these connections are disrupted by the artist’s desire to mount the stage himself and interject the narrative created by his own associations. As if to replicate Agnelli’s own masquerade, Starling’s additions reflect a desire to curate viewer perception.
These interventions can be felt in the trilogy of daguerreotypes picturing hands, which seem to vanish between the folds of time, as well as the artist’s self-portraits. Both the ‘Hand of the Artist’s Father’, ‘Hand of the Artist’, and ‘Hand of the Artist’s Son’ (2019) and the Noh masks build upon previous projects and collaborations, particularly with mask-maker Yasuo Miitchi, remind the viewer of the creator’s position at the centre of the facade.
If one attempts to look away from the centre, towards the edges, where woven baskets, Castiglioni lamps, and the Riforma font adorning all four walls of the gallery lure the viewer with narratives of their own, they will face a physical intrusion. Actors hired by Starling swarm the space to deliver the dialogue of Foh’s play, reminding the viewer once again, art may be subjective, but here, we are mere participants on Starling’s stage.