Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Christopher Brayshaw, Study For War Game Tree, 2008

Jeff Wall, War Game, 2007

Gustave Courbet, The Oak at Flagey (The Oak of Vercingetorix), 1864

"Manet was a trenchant social commentator, Courbet a revolutionary. Mr. Haacke next wants to look at a Courbet in the following room, Oak Tree in Flagey, Called the Oak of Vercingetorix. Again, the politics behind the image intrigue him. In Courbet's day, the people of Burgundy and of the artist's native Franche-Comte region were in heated dispute over the site of Alesia, the ancient capital of Gallic resistance to Julius Caesar. Particularly in the 1860s, when Napoleon III ruled France, Alesia became a symbol of anti-imperialism. The giant oak, Courbet said, represented the Alesian site in Franche-Comte where Vercingetorix, the Gallic general, battled the Romans. The oak was a kind of surrogate portrait of the general by Courbet. It was also, maybe, a reference to the trees planted during the French Revolution as emblems of liberty.

'The tree is very strong,' Mr. Haacke says. 'The whole thing's painted with a palette knife, so there is a thick texture to the pigment. No trompe l'oeil.' It reminds him of Brecht: 'Brecht wanted his actors to present themselves to the audience as actors, in contrast to pretending that they are the people they portray.'"

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