If, as Rebecca Solnit has argued, “science is how capitalism knows the world”, then it should not be surprising that, as new auction records are broken seemingly every week, it is to technology that the business of authentication must increasingly turn. The studied perusal of the expert is no longer enough; now it is the penetrating gaze of stereo microscopes, spectroscopes, x-rays, and infrared reflectography that provides today’s guarantees of authenticity and, of course, value.
But it is not only authenticators making use of such technologies. Museums can glean valuable information about how best to clean and conserve the works of art entrusted to their care. It is with the conservation departments of three such museums – the Prado in Madrid, the Louvre in Paris, and the National Gallery in London – that artist Alejandro Guijarro has collaborated for his latest series of photographic works, on show this March and April at Tristan Hoare in London.
Guijarro has photographed x-ray, infrared, and ultraviolet scans of renowned Old Master paintings – including works by Delacroix, van Dyck, Goya, Rubens, and Velazquez – to produce a series of dynamic monochrome images. The series takes its title, Lead, from the presence of the metal in the pigments used by these artists: it is the reflection of the x-rays off this lead that creates the resulting images. Artists have used lead in white paint since at least the 4th century BC, and although increasingly regulated in many countries since the 1970s, it remains greatly admired for its opacity and strength. Guijarro’s works show just how important the pigment was.
Modern scientific techniques enact an archaeology of the work of art. But like archaeology there are questions that they struggle to answer: meaning, for one, and real value. Guijarro’s beautiful images – vibrantly dramatic but resolutely shrouded in mystery – demonstrate the limits of what we can see with our eyes, no matter how powerful the lenses we look through. In the end, art will always keep its secrets.
Alejandro Guijarro, LEAD is at Tristan Hoare, London from 9th March to 28th April 2017.
Image credits (from top to bottom):
1. RX15260 (The Bestowal of the Order of Saint-Spirit, in the Chapel of Versailles Palace [3 June 1724]), 2016 © C2RMF/Alejandro Guijarro, courtesy Tristan Hoare
2. 57954 (Saint Pierre Released from Prison), 2016 © C2RMF/ Alejandro Guijarro, Courtesy Tristan Hoare
3. 73813 (Siege of Beauvais in 1472), 2016 © C2RMF/ Alejandro Guijarro, Courtesy Tristan Hoare
4. 19207 (Boissy d’Anglas at the National Convention [20 May 1795]), 2016 © C2RMF/ Alejandro Guijarro, Courtesy Tristan Hoare
5. 49757 (St Gregory The Great), 2016 © C2RMF/ Alejandro Guijarro, Courtesy Tristan Hoare
6. N-0583-00-000135 (The Battle of San Romano), 2016 © The National Gallery, London/ Alejandro Guijarro, Courtesy Tristan Hoare
7. RX15260 (The Bestowal of the Order of Saint-Spirit, in the Chapel of Versailles Palace [3 June 1724]), 2016 © C2RMF/Alejandro Guijarro, courtesy Tristan Hoare
8. P01915a00xf2008 (The Annunciation), 2016 © Museo Nacional del Prado/ Alejandro Guijarro, courtesy Tristan Hoare