When you visit the Lluís Hortalà exhibition at Tecla Sala in L’Hospitalet you have to be ready for a double set of rules: those of the eye, subjected to the logical trickery of trompe-l’oeil, and those of the concept, articulated in the solid story about the exhibition by Oriol Fontdevila. But one step at a time.
A quick look around the spaces of Tecla Sala and you see how they share their white silence with wooden structures which the eye decodes as marble.
Used to the rocky textures of the mountain and the mineral landscapes of such iconic locations as Montserrat, Lluis Hortalà trained at the acclaimed Van der Kelen Logelain school in Brussels, one of the few places in the world to teach traditional techniques of decorative European painting. There Hortalà learned how to imitate marble surfaces, with their veining and watermarks, filigrees and subtle tones. Belgian blue, Swedish granite, burnt Sienna, Carrara white. A whole technical baggage which he has brought to contemporary art. Using material devices with conceptual effects, this artist from Olot proposes a journey to the founding moment of modernity.
An impeccable life-size reproduction of one of the skirting panels from the Prado Museum and another from Room 700 of the Louvre, where eighteenth and nineteenth century French painting is exhibited, placed at a certain height like a horizon, situates us in the framework of a museum. There are only skirting panels. No other works are on display or any other pictorial story; in this case the representation consists of the same possibilities as the museum itself – the space from the end of the eighteenth century which was intended to democratise noble and sacred art and give it autonomy.
As well as the museum, Hortalà’s trompe-l’oeil takes us to private rooms from the same historical period: the salons of Marie Antoinette and Jeanne Bécu, better known as Madame du Barry, condensed in the symbolism of the fireplace. The first, from the Cabinet du Billard, which Queen Antoinette had built in her quarters, is of neoclassical taste. The second, in the Bourbonic rococo style is from the Salon des Jeux in the Palace of Versailles – the bedchamber of Jeanne Bécu, who was the Maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV and rose to the rank of Countess. Hortalà’s great technical ability reflects the high-voltage palatial row which took place between the two women and which ultimately affected European geopolitics.
In this journey to Versailles, Hortalà also offers us more skirting panels and marbled elements, placed as though they had been dismantled, as if the Ancien Regime itself was also reduced to a trompe-l’oeil by the French Revolution, manifesting itself in the most minimal physical elements. Very subtly the exhibition invites some basic concepts of the new regime of the gaze which the birth of modernity signified.
How can we go back and look after modernity?
The painted marbles in Tecla Sala represent a line that joins the Ancien Regime with the invention of the guillotine (which did for both Marie Antoinette and Jeanne Bécu), but also the new device that was the museum and the paradigm that enthroned the importance of the eye and its dominance over space, a scopic regime that has lasted until the present day. Everything links up: the museum as the kingdom of the gaze and at the same time as one of the places where the art of the people is recognised as part of a universal fraternity, and the guillotine – that new death machine that was the same for everyone and aimed to do away with the savage techniques used up until then and applied according to social standing.
It is this modern ‘I’ that we have inherited, an ‘I’ which has the right to an equal death and which the museum teaches to look and recognise itself in the shared imagination. It is an ‘I’ that looks, thinks, as Descartes would have it, reduced by Lluís Hortalà to pure simulacrum, to the purest trickery of the senses. Despite their solid appearance, Hortalà’s false volumes leave us in a situation of extreme fragility. How can we go back and look after modernity? Who knows if we will have to repeat the words of Madame du Barry as she was taken to the guillotine on 8 December 1793: “One more moment, Mr. Executioner”.
The exhibition Guillotina. Lluís Hortalà can be seen at the art center Tecla Sala, L’Hospitalet, until 21 July.