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Enjoy Poverty:
Disclosing the Political Impasse of Contemporary Art
Renzo Martens

with Niels Van Tomme

Matts Leiderstam:
At Work in a Moving Archive

text / Eva Heisler

I first saw Matts Leiderstam's work in 1998 when he participated in the Stedelijk Museum's From the Corner of the Eye, a group exhibition that showcased the convergence of queer theory and art practices at the end of the twentieth century. Leiderstam's Behind Picasso, 1998, featured a slide projection of what appeared to be two concrete "ears" peeking above foliage. The work was identified as Picasso's Figure Découpée, 1965, a sculpture in nearby Vondelpark. Picasso's work faces a public path, its back to a wooded area; it was in these woods that I hunted for the slide's perspective and found it among empty beer bottles and discarded condoms. Behind Picasso highlights the public/private dichotomies at the heart of gay experience. It also raises questions about the perspective of art historical knowledge. Additionally, Behind Picasso suggests a relationship between looking at art and other forms of looking, a relationship that Leiderstam explored in Grand Tour, a major multimedia project that evolved and expanded over the course of ten years.

Matts Leiderstam, Grand Tour, 1997-2006, after Canaletto, The Grand Canal from The Piazzetta Looking West, 1746, book and painting on panel, 27 x 22 cm (collection of Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall; courtesy of the artist; photo: Mattias Givell)

In 1996, the Swedish artist saw the Tate's exhibition Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century and realized that many of the sites that had been popular subjects for artists were also listed in the Spartacus International Gay Guide, a travel guide for gay men. Between 1997 and 2007, Leiderstam explored the entanglements of travel, landscape representation, museums, and desire in projects produced under the overarching title Grand Tour. His process enlists different practices, from archival research that unearths acquisition histories and restoration records to meticulously copying a painting for weeks in a museum's public gallery along with the other amateur copyists. In this way, Leiderstam has investigated the work of Canaletto, Constable, Courbet, Piranesi, Poussin, and Volaire. In conversation, Leiderstam points out that the etymological root of "amateur" is amour. His own methods encompass the amateur's enthusiasms, the historian's curiosity, and the painter's attention to material practice.

Museum presentations of Grand Tour consist primarily of materials propped or spread on tables. These often include pages from museum catalogues, travel guides, history books, museum records, reproductions, and the artist's copy of a painting that may subtly alter elements in the original. He also provides magnifying glasses, which are positioned to highlight relationships among figures. Through his table arrangements, Leiderstam inserts a gay male subject position into art historical narrative, foregrounding the reciprocities of aesthetic experience and desire.

Grand Tour first manifested in Venice in 1997, in a group exhibition. By 2005, when it was presented at Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, it had grown to fifteen tables. Grand Tour has been exhibited at numerous other institutions along the way, including Dundee Contemporary Arts, Scotland; Göteborgs Konsthall, Sweden; and Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. Magasin 3 now owns the work in its entirety and maintains a website that serves as a comprehensive catalogue for Grand Tour.2 The artist re-arranged the material for each presentation of Grand Tour. He also added new elements. As such, the exhibition process becomes a way of working with both a particular museum's collection and his own archive. Leiderstam refers to Grand Tour as "an archive that was moved around."

Matts Leiderstam, detail of installation of Neanderthal Landscape, 2010, at Malmö Konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden, installation with 7 tables designed by the artist, books (partly with text by the artist pasted in), photographs, texts, and drawings, two digital projections, computer animation, easels, fieldscopes, skiascope, historical paintings, and sketches, dimensions variable (courtesy of the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm; photo: Jenny Lindhe)

The recent solo exhibition Matts Leiderstam—Seen from Here in Düsseldorf featured a new installation, Neanderthal Landscape, 2008-2010, designed especially for two of the museum's galleries: a second-floor balconied space that overlooks the Kinosaal, so-named because an enormous wall that resembles a cinema screen dominates the first floor space [Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; March 20—May 24, 2010]. The title of Leiderstam's installation refers to the valley outside Düsseldorf where Johann Wilhelm Schirmer (1807-1863), an influential landscape painter and teacher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, took his students to sketch. The Neandertal landscape, as represented by Schirmer and his students, served as the model of nineteenth-century landscape followed by artists throughout Europe and North America. For example, one table centers on the influence of the Düsseldorf School on Russian landscape painting. The 1990s resurgence of interest in Russian national identity created a new demand for nineteenth-century Russian landscape paintings. There were not enough paintings to satisfy the market. As Leiderstam tells the story in the exhibition catalogue,

Some Russian art dealers compensated for the deficit by buying minor Düsseldorf paintings at auction and "refitting" them with traditional Russian attributes—or painting over the non-Russian features. But these re-worked works didn't stay in Russia. A couple of years later the same paintings were offered by a different auction house in the West—now as being Russian.3

Matts Leiderstam, installation view of Emporensaal, a component of Neanderthal Landscape, at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (courtesy of the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm; photo: Matts Leiderstam)

Leiderstam's installation emphasizes the interchangeability of landscape elements and, as the artist put it, "how easily a national landscape can be transformed into the landscape of another country."4 Landscape representation becomes nationalized through the adoption of conventions rather than as the result of the observation of specific phenomena.

Wandering among Leiderstam's displays on the second floor, we are always aware of the Kinosaal's looming wall, its gridded surface hung with nineteenth-century landscape paintings by German, Norwegian, and Swedish artists. The eighteen paintings are hung such that they each appear to be part of one landscape painting: horizon levels are matched; forest clearings seem to extend one another; a waterfall rushes downward and leads the eye toward the falling water of another painting. Fieldscopes pointed over the balcony invite us to concentrate on the landscapes' particulars; the promise of nearness and detail is a curious one, however, since the paintings that comprise the "field" were chosen because they are nondescript. The Kinosaal arrangement further underscores the generic elements of landscape representation.

Matts Leiderstam, installation view of Kinosaal, a component of Neanderthal Landscape, at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf (courtesy of the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm; photo: Christoph Münstermann)

Seen from Here, curated by Christoph Benjamin Schulz, also included over a dozen works made between 1998 and 2008, an opportunity to experience Leiderstam's wide-ranging interests. One of the most compelling works is The Sun, made after Claude Lorrain, Landscape with Rebekah Taking Leave of Her Father, 1640/1641, 2003-2007, an installation that focuses on a painting in the collection of Stockholm's Nationalmuseum. Leiderstam began the work by copying at the Nationalmuseum. He soon discovered that an X-ray had "revealed that ‘inside of the outside' of the painting there was another sun in the sky." This inspired him to copy the painting several times with the sun moving from sunrise to sunset, each repositioning of the sun affecting the composition's overall play of light and shadow. Leiderstam refers to these copies as "after images." Rather than painting each "after image" on a separate canvas, he painted one on top of the other. Each painting was photographed; these photographs were then projected as an animation in the installation. Leiderstam's description of his process foregrounds the relationship of "inside" and "outside." He writes:

Technically, from a painter's point of view, the brush drew a new sun for every repositioning and another painted over the old one. In this way I created a whole set of new suns that remained shining on the inside of my painting. This act bore consequences—it meant that the painting went through a continuous change, gradually becoming darker on the outside and lighter on the inside.5

Leiderstam characterizes his decision to play with the sun's position as a way of exploring different kinds of time: "The mere act of painting shifts the sun in my after-image, turns time into past tense, into past time, from inside of the outside of Landscape with Rebekah's own painting history."6 He posits that his practice "produces a set of perplexing histories about both the historical time of painting the pictures (mine and Claude's), and about the sun's traveling over the sky in both landscapes."7

Matts Leiderstam, The Sun (Made After Claude Lorrain [1600-1682] Landscape with Rebekah Taking Leave of Her Father, 1640/1641, 2003–2007, installation view at Badischer Kunstverien, Karlsruhe: 2 tables, 6 books, digital projection, X-ray in light box, magnifying glass, 2 paintings, oil on canvas, each 60.5 x 80 cm, and 1 painting, oil on panel, 22 x 27 cm, dimensions variable (collection of Malmö Art Museum, Malmö; photo: Thorsten Hallscheidt)

Leiderstam's motivations and process are not, of course, immediately apparent to the viewer faced with an installation. In the case of The Sun, we encounter, from left to right on the wall, the computer animation of a black-and-white landscape, the tonalities of which subtly shift; an oil painting of a similar but darker landscape; and a lightbox that displays the X-ray of a painting. A table, facing the wall, is spread with books that show images of Lorrain's work, beginning with a marvelous ink drawing of a sun, and ending with a small painting by Leiderstam that copies Lorrain's sun as seen on an X-ray—the sun white and easily mistaken for the moon. A magnifying glass is positioned on top of Leiderstam's painting f the X-rayed sun: Leiderstam's painting of an image in the X-ray of a painting is magnified—the act of magnification thus becomes gratuitous.

Matts Leiderstam, installation view of The Eruption of Vesuvius, 2000, at Grunert & Gasser Inc, New York (courtesy of the artist and Grunert & Gasser Inc, New York; photo: Mark Luttrell)

For Leiderstam, the museum is a space of reverie, a studio, and a performance space. As such, he actively engages the conventions and expectations of users of the space. This is not to say that the artist's research does not yield historical insights, only that his research is not measured in traditional terms by its use value.

Matts Leiderstam, installation views of Provenance, 2007-2010, at Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm, digital double projection on oak panel, ed. 3 + 1 AP (courtesy of the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm; photo: Peter Hermann)

Leiderstam's Provenance, 2007-2010, delves into the narratives that surround paintings as objects. The installation features projections on either side of an oak panel. Facing the work, we see a series of sky-filled, peaceful Dutch landscapes that dissolve one into another, a cinematic projection of a tranquil river port.10 Walking behind the projection, we encounter a scrolling text that details the provenance of each painting, producing a narrative thrust propelled by death, debt, theft, inheritance, and taxation.

Matts Leiderstam, Returned, Hampstead Heath, London, 1997, c-print, 40.5 x 55.5 cm, framed, ed. 3 + 2 AP (courtesy of the artist and Andrehn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm)

Matts Leiderstam, Returned, The Ramble, Central Park, New York, 1997, c-print, 40.5 x 55.5 cm (framed), ed. 3 + 2 AP (courtesy of the artist and Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm)

One of Leiderstam's most moving works is Returned, 1997-1998, a series of c-prints that each depict one of the artist's seven copies of Nicolas Poussin's Spring or the Earthly Paradise, 1660-1664, displayed on an easel in a public park that has been identified in the Spartacus Guide as a cruising site. Once each photograph has been taken, usually at dusk, the painting is left behind. In conversation, Leiderstam notes, "The painting, left on the easel, is the approximate height of a person, so that it meets someone who goes to the park after dark."9 The artist does not know the fate of any of his seven paintings; nor does he care to find out. It was the process of copying Poussin's landscape and the subsequent act of leaving it behind that matters. Leiderstam's copies are both left behind and returned: the photographs document the artist's return to a particular landscape tradition, a representation of Arcadia that is itself an image of a return to a lost landscape. Leiderstam's copies, however, leave out Poussin's figures of Adam, Eve, and God; and he returns the fantasy of Arcadia to the public park after dark. Despite a fascination with the historical and fantasized trajectories of paintings, Leiderstam produced seven landscapes that will, most likely, evade the archive.

1. Matts Leiderstam, author's phone interview, June 11. 2010.
2., accessed on August 9, 2010. In September 2010, selections from Grand Tour will be exhibited at Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria.
3. Matts Leiderstam cited in Jari Ortwig and Christoph Benjamin Schulz, eds. Matts Leiderstam¨Seen from Here, Nürnberg: Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010, 106.
4. Ibid.
5. Matts Leiderstam, See and Seen—Seeing Landscape through Artistic Process, Malmö, Sweden: Malmö Academies of Performing Arts, Lund University, 2006, 69. See, accessed on August 9, 2010.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ten seventeenth-century paintings of Dordrecht, nine painted by Jan van Goyen and one by Jeronymus van Diest that was mistakenly attributed to van Goyen.
9. Matts Leiderstam, author's phone interview, June 11. 2010.

Eva Heisler is an American art critic and poet who currently lives in Germany.  Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic, a book of poems, is forthcoming from Kore Press in 2011.

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