Published September 17, 2013
Jorge Luis Borges is one of the most prominent literary figures whose work is also profoundly philosophical. His stories are filled with conceptual puzzles that prompt the reader to face the most fundamental questions concerning human existence.
Painting Borges is a collection of paintings, drawings, etchings and mixed media works created by 16 artists in response to stories by this Argentinean writer. Twelve stories by Borges are organized according to three topics: identity and memory, freedom and destiny, and faith and divinity.
Many of the works in the exhibition were produced specifically for this project. Participating artists: Luis Cruz Azaceta, Alejandro Boim, Miguel Cámpora, Ricardo Celma, Claudio D’Leo, Laura Delgado, Héctor Destéfanis, Carlos Estévez, Etienne Gontard, José Franco, Mirta Kupferminc, Nicolás Menza, Mauricio Nizzero, Estela Pereda, Paul Sierra, and Alberto Rey.
The visual interpretation of literature is nothing new. A great part of the history of western art has been concerned with rendering stories, myths, and adventures first recorded in literary genres into visual media. The subject matter of a substantial portion of Greek and Roman art is divine mythology, and in the Renaissance, as many works of art deal with classical topics as with Christian ones. Michelangelo's rendition of the creation in the Sistine Chapel is one of the most dramatic and well known of these.
The image of God giving life to Adam, the creation of Eve, the temptation by the serpent, and the subsequent expulsion from Paradise effectively express the Genesis narrative. The artistic interpretation of literature is so common that it is hard to walk into an art museum and not be confronted with works whose subject matter does not have a literary origin. How many artistic depictions of Dante's Divine Comedy, Cervantes's Don Quixote, and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet have been produced?
In spite of this abundance, the investigation of the artistic interpretation of literature in general is relatively infrequent. Most critics restrict themselves to particular interpretations of literary works, ignoring the broader topics questions that such interpretations involve, such as: how artistic interpretations of literature differ from other kinds of interpretations, their character, and whether it makes sense to call them interpretations when the media of visual art and of literature are so different. To investigate these and many other questions that surface in this is well beyond the boundaries of this exhibition, but I hope the works of art exhibited here serve to raise some of these questions in the audience.
Numerous examples of the hermeneutic phenomenon that concerns us are found in the history of art and could have served our purpose. Why not use Michelangelo, Leonardo, or Goya? One reason is that the variety of literary works these artists interpreted is too large, creating unnecessary complications and distractions. Moreover, the use of religious stories and myths, so common in the history of art, add difficulties that further complicate matters. It is one thing to interpret a literary text that has no religious overtones, and another to interpret one that believers consider a divine revelation. Then there is the exhaustive and numerous discussions of these works by critics throughout history. To pick a work such as Michelangelo's pictorial interpretation of Genesis in the Sistine Chapel would have forced us to deal with many issues that are only marginally related to the core topic of interest here. Not to mention that only reproductions of the pertinent works could have been used.
In short, simplification was needed, and this was achieved in two ways. First, by picking only one literary author and, second, by using recent artists, whose work is not burdened with history and criticism. Because interpretation is a matter of perspective, it was also necessary to use artists whose work manifests different points of view. I searched for artists at different career stages, young and old, women and men, belonging to different social classes, with different ideologies and interests, and even having different ethnic origins, some who live exclusively from their art and some who have to do other things to survive, artists who began to create when they were children and artists who started their careers at a mature age, painters, engravers, and multifaceted and monofaceted artists. In short, I looked for variety as far as posible, although the nature of our topic, and its philosophical bent, favored those whose work is figurative and sensitive to conceptual content.
The choice of author was not difficult. Jorge Luis Borges is one of the most prominent literary figures whose work is also profoundly philosophical. Indeed, some have gone so far as to argue that he is a philosopher, and that his work should be considered part of philosophy. The philosophical interest in Borges should not be surprising insofar as his stories are filled with conceptual puzzles that prompt the reader to face the most fundamental questions concerning human existence.