Making it new:…the present of the past at play with pastness of the present
Contemporary artist Vik Muniz sometimes plays with his food, and with that food he sometimes puts Renaissance in play, slamming his art against the likes of Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci. Take, for example, his “Medusa Marinara”.
That’s the very same boy Medusa you see Caravaggio painted on a shield you can see within a glass case in Florence’s Uffizi gallery. Back in 1598 Medusas were a big deal in the artistic aesthetic of the times.
Renaissance men and women must have been pretty enamored with the whole story of this gorgon with a snake hairdo and the power to turn men into stone. Leonardo di Vinci painted one a shield for the Ferdnando I de Medici, grand duke of Tuscany. That one has been lost to history, but we do know it was in the grand dukes art collection. The Caravagio became part of his collection after the duke’s business agent in Rome commissioned the piece for the Duke. In 1597 Benvenuto Cellini had cast a magnificent 18-foot high bronze sculpture of Perseus beheading Medusa for the Medici.
These medusa works speak to the myth of how Perseus beheaded Medusa, and is supposed to be emblematic of reason triumphing over chaos or emotion. In the story, Perseus mounts Medusa’s head on a shield, so on one hand the Perseus wields the image of chaos upon his shield, but with the other strikes with the sword of reason. Apparently that’s the narrative the Grand Duke was attaching himself to with the acquisition of these shields after having to fix some of the messes he had to fix when he succeeded his brother, Francisco. There was some chaos in Francisco’s life attributed to the lovely and charming Bianca Cappello.
Now the Brazilian-born Muniz has undermined that glorious narrative by appropriating Caravagio’s Medusa and recreating it from what appears to be the mess on a plate of uneaten pasta and sauce, just as you might see it the moments before you scrape it into the garbage disposer. Muniz made it, he photographed it, hung it, and made extra prints enabling art consumers to purchase and hang in their dining rooms, a process Muniz says “renounce the origins from which the images spring and thus creating an illusory representation.”
This pasta may be not very appetizing, but neither was Medusa. Now, imagine Muniz doing the Last Supper.