BATMAN MEETS MONA LISA
GILLES CLEMENT EXHIBIT RECASTS SOME ICONIC FACES
The Mona Lisa does a magic act and superheroes mix with Old Masters in a time-distorting exhibit titled “Classical ReMix” at the Gilles Clement Gallery in Greenwich.
The Mona Lisa comes courtesy of the New York based artist Devorah Sperber. The famous da Vinci lady is invisible at first. She’s hiding in a sort of tapestry Sperber “sculpted” from almost 1,500 spools of thread.
Gallery director Dianne Niklaus shows how to find her. Step up to an acrylic orb on a stand in front of the tapestry and look through, as if into a crystal ball. And thereshe is, smiling back. Step away and your now trained eye might see her emerge larger and upside down from the tapestry itself.
A second Sperber piece in the exhibit similarly translates “The Man in the Red Turban,” which as painted by Jan van Eyck in 1433. Sperber’s required 5,000 spools of thread. Niklaus says the spools act like pixels or mosaic tiles and that Sperber is interested in how the brain sees. Her work has been exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History and is on permanent display at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash.
The superheroes belong to a husbandand-wife team who paint as one under the name Clement Kamena.
Originally from Europe, they now live in Westport and have a second studio in Fairfield. In one of their large canvases, Marvel’s modern Wonder Woman strides through “The Abduction of the Sabine Women” as depicted by the 17th-century painter Nicolas Poussin. In another, Batman stands atop the Chrysler Building contemplating a falling Icarus.
Their superhero series is brand new. The first large one they did, in which Batman swoops down to rescue Icarus, is now in a private collection in Switzerland. But they have been together since meeting in Paris more than 50 years ago and have long been interested bringing classical themes and techniques into the present.
Marina Kamena points out the very deliberate use of vanishing point perspective in their Batman’s Gotham.
In an interview, she answered most questions while Serge Clement interjected in French. Kamena says the superhero series was suggested by their son Gilles (who owns the gallery as well as a high end interior design business, also in Greenwich).
“When you see a (news) video, you have a shock,” Kamena says. “But when you make a painting, you come out of time. Icarus and all the heroes of antiquity were everywhere: on the vases, on the tapestry, in the murals, in the paintings. Everywhere the legends of heroes are present. We asked, ‘What are the heroes of today?’ We mixed the epochs.”
Kamena sees comic book heroes as morally complex as ancient ones. “I mean Batman can be a very helpful person, or he can be in cynical person,” she says.
In the Chrysler Building painting, Batman’s head is cocked as if he’s trying to decide whether Icarus is worth rescuing.
Kamena says American friends in Paris led them to Westport about 20 years ago.“We started working here and we liked it very much,” she says.
She says their collaborative process is nearly impossible to describe. Each may start their own painting, but after a while they begin sharing the same one.
“We exchange the painting, so we have the feeling of starting a new piece, instead of getting tired. We work by passing it to each other.”
Like Clement Kamena and Devorah Sperber, the other two artists featured in Classical ReMix also have international reputations.
In Greenwich, the Spanish painter LinoLago has a new series of “fake abstracts,” in which the faces of women painted centuries ago peer out through a scratched scrim of solid color. They could be cloistered maidens or courtesans.
In “Fake Black Abstract,” Lago has transported a Madame de Pompadour originally painted by Francois Boucher, official portraitist to Louis XV.
Paintings by the Ukrainian-born artist Arven Savadov are a Dali-esque mix of styles and images. In one large canvas titled “The Citizen,” a robed angel with American flag wings smashes vinyl records on candy colored rocks. She’s from an early 17th century Annunciation painting.
In “No Time to Waste,” a fleshy cherub who might have been taken from a cathedral ceiling has had its back turned into both clock and palette. Bright daubs of paint positioned to represent the hours also look like wounds.
All the artists in Classical ReMix have large and varied bodies of work and command five-figure prices. The composition of the exhibit is fluid. Clement Kamena delivered a second Wonder Woman after a Batman was sold.
All four artists will remain on display through mid-March.