ArtNexus No. 57
by Christine Frerot © 2005
In this show Miguel Rothschild gives us an ironic contemporary version of the mythological “lost paradise” that medieval Europeans sought desperately and believed to have found in the Americas. With a sense of humor, marking his distance, he does this from the perspective of an intellectual utopia. In this sort of inversion of history operated by the artist, the dreamed-of, always imagined Eden where, always and for all cultures, abundance and beauty reign, becomes a consumerist “hell” where the object-king rises with
blasphemous redundancy. Finally unveiled, within reach of all, paradise is no longer a dream; it has become something banal, de multiplied, like an incommensurable and inevitable reality.
Miguel Rothschild (born in Buenos Aires in 1963 and a current resident of Berlin, Germany, his family’s ancestral homeland) is the first Latin American artist to have his work exhibited at the Douai Fine Arts Museum. This ancient fortified city in Northern France, with a population of 200,000 people, belonged to Flanders, then to Spain, and later, since the reign of Louis XIV (1715,) to France. The history of this triple cultural legacy developed in parallel to the rise of the textile mills and the exploitation of the mines for which Northern France took its renown and its wealth, and later, in the Seventeenth Century, was reinforced with the foundation of the city’s precocious University. This history of growth and abundance was to be brutally interrupted by the destruction caused by two world wars, which left
the region wounded and profoundly scarred. Was it perhaps this contradictory fate what predisposed this old medieval city to become the metaphoric and natural stage for Miguel Rothschild’s images, some meticulously woven together to evoke his “Hell” and the others, more prosaic, showing a materialistic, oppressive, saturated, useless “Paradise” where all desire has been abolished?
The initiative for this double project originated in the enthusiasm of an art professor, a lover of all Latin American things, 1 who, in cooperation with the museum, organized the staging of this show in two different locations, slightly over one kilometer apart: the Fine Arts Museum of the Chartreuse and the Albert Châtelet. Two buildings dating from different historical periods and serving different purposes, where the rather narrow spaces devoted to Miguel Rothschild created a symbolic opposition. “Hell” and “Paradise” were thus
linked in a spatial dialectic, by means of images, objects, and meaning. The Chartreuse Museum, whose beautiful architecture combines medieval austerity (red brick) with the lights of the Renaissance (white stone,) is one on the region’s most important Fine Arts museums. In the capitulary wing, built in the Seventeenth Century, four large-format color photographs were on display, alongside the installation of a wall of photographs —a work in progress since 2000—, and a second installation of consumer products arranged in shelves (books, music recordings, canned preserves, posters, soap, book jackets, etc.) All the objects and photographs were inscribed with the name “Paradise” in several languages since, in his research, Miguel Rothschild traveled to Germany, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, Argentina, and Brazil. Also in this space were two display cases. One of them contained old books with engravings, among them the “Nuremberg Chronicle” (1493,) belonging to the Douai Municipal Library and whose common theme referred to the expulsion from paradise. The second case contained an equally illuminated parchment bible from the Twelfth Century.
If one soaps up with paradise, eats, drinks, breathes, reads, listens to paradise… it is because paradise is within a hand’s reach, because it has ceased to be inaccessible, because it no longer possesses any of the qualities that make a (true) paradise. Never before was the word “paradise” a vessel for so many images. Never was a dream so bastardized. Or was it perhaps made prisoner of an overvaluing of the everyday? Miguel Rothschild’s ekphrasis around the concept of “paradise” erases borders, cultures, religions, rejects morality and its limitations, creates different expectations, and suggest other images. Nevertheless, the artist’s discourse tries to be iconoclastic, since so many images end up breaking the image as such. The old 1960s hippie slogan “paradise now” has been relegated to history. The paradigmatic use of the word “paradise” neuters all hope, all speculation.
At the school, a rectangular 15 m2 room held seventeen reprographed images on self-adhesive paper, dated 1998, taken from famous paintings or engravings that deal with the theme of the “expulsion from paradise,” as well as a series of candles with impressions on rhodoid titled “Hold back hell” and dated 1997, which return to medieval images of hell from various origins and periods.
This work about suffering, both to the heart’s and the body’s, as well as the topic of exile, has been central to Rothschild’s work for years. Beginning with his famous exhibition at Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires, in 1990 (“A todas las mujeres que me hicieron sufrir como un perro,”) to “Lágrimas asesinas” at Galería Ruth Benzacar in 2001, and to “Lo intratable amoroso” at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, Rothschild’s creative trajectory is inseparable from his capacity to transcend his personal fate by means of art. For this reason, the Douai show, which gathered works from this period, clearly revealed the artist entrenchment regarding that inaccessible horizon of love and redemption, a transcendental obsession that is not, however, devoid of humor and irony. Today, it would seem that Miguel Rothschild’s “imperfect” religiosity has mellowed down thanks to life’s (happy) surprises. The traplittered path, real or imagined, has cleared up. From a distance, the transfixed artist, observes that period when, lost, he painfully searched for a way to find
1. In September of 2001, a show organized with Yvonarmor Palix Gallery, gathering works by Ambra Polidori, Betsabée Romero, Alicia Paz, and Yolanda Gutiérrez under the title “Visiones.”