Oil on wood
© Laurent Grasso / ADAGP, Paris & ARS, Séoul 2016 Courtesy Galerie Perrotin
The series of works by Laurent Grasso grouped under the title Studies into the past, undertaken in 2009, vividly illustrates the degree to which this artist’s works are infused by a meditation on time. The corpus consists of drawings and oil paintings on panel whose style and execution are inspired by such Italian and Flemish painters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Andrea Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Seen through Grasso’s eyes, however, this chapter in the history of painting is disrupted by the presence of the foreign objects that are perfectly integrated into each image. The mythological and religious narrative elements characteristic of the period have been replaced by celestial phenomena rarely illustrated before the nineteenth century 1 — eclipses, auroras borealis, meteorites — along with strange clouds of smoke, a rock hovering over a landscape, an incongruous flight of birds in a forest. This insertion of fragments of the future into paintings from the past does more than simply create a sense of anachronism: Studies into the past is in fact a major conceptual project aimed at reconstructing our perception of the reality of another era. Contemporary, yet conceived as though they were from another age, the works are executed using scientifically accurate historical methods by teams of specialists (including conservators). Grasso’s goal is to use this fusion of different time frames to create what he calls a “false historical memory,” so that in the distant future it will be impossible to identify the period when the works were made. He seems to be attempting to manipulate their historicity, to modify their relationship to time.
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