A Richter Painting as an End Table
Stolen Images at the Fondazione Prada

It was one of the biggest art thefts in recent years: In may 2010, paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Léger, Braque, and Modigliani disappeared from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. All that remained were the empty frames – on the street in front of the museum. The crime-scene photos inspired John Baldessari to design the two posters the Fondazione Prada is using to advertise L’image volée (The Stolen Image), a group show curated by Thomas Demand. But the exhibition does not only focus on pilfered paintings. It engages with all manner of artistic appropriation, as well as with state supervision. In the show, apart from Baldessari other artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection are represented, ranging from classic cases of appropriation, including works by Hans-Peter Feldmann and Andreas Slominski, to contemporary art photographers, such as Elad Lassry and Anne Collier, who were represented in the recent Photo Poetics exhibition at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.

Demand is the ideal man for stolen images, though he always bases his photographic works on media pictures. At the end of the day, all artists appropriate. “Everyone stands on someone else’s shoulders,” says the curator. He divided up his show, encompassing ninety works by more than sixty artists, into chapters joined together by Manfred Pernice’s exhibition architecture. The first section takes the title of the exhibition literally. It revolves around artworks that were actually purloined to some degree. An example is Stolen Rug, an oriental carpet that Richard Artschwager commissioned to be stolen from a friend for the Art by Telephone exhibition at the MCA in Chicago. Also on view is Martin Kippenberger’s violent homage to his artistic father, Gerhard Richter. Kippenberger acquired one of Richter’s typical gray paintings and equipped it with four legs. He subsequently sold the end table, titled Richter Modell (interconti), for a price far below the value of the original canvas.

The second chapter of L’image volée is devoted to various kinds of appropriation. A Cubist portrait of a woman is on exhibit with which Cy Twombly overpainted one of his own paintings he considered a failure, true to the motto “a fake Picasso is better than a bad Twombly.” The strategy would have pleased the copied artist. “When there’s anything to steal, I steal,” was one of Picasso’s maxims.

For his 16-mm film “Agassi,” Anri Sala made use of a photo from the International Herald Tribune that captures the moment right before the tennis player serves. Sala’s loop stretches this moment of utmost concentration ad infinitum, as it were, imbuing the photo with an incredible presence. Wangechi Mutu also works with media images. Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2010 blends photos from high-gloss magazines with pictures from old medical textbooks. Her uncanny, fascinating collages question our conception of beauty and, not least, stereotypical portrayals of black women.

The last part gives the exhibition an explosive political dimension, investigating images that are “stolen” from us every day. And not just the images captured by omnipresent surveillance cameras, as Demand’s video work Camera illustrates. Trevor Paglen’s pictures from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean allude to much more concealed methods of control. They show the cables through which Internet data, images, and phone conversations are transmitted from continent to continent and which are regularly tapped by intelligence services. The exhibition ends with a presentation of tools that Eastern Bloc countries used to spy on and interrogate citizens. Presented like desirable design objects on a bright yellow display, they astonishingly call to mind today’s cellphones – and the fact that we voluntarily let ourselves be spied on by these practical mini computers.

L’image volée
Until 8/28/2016
Fondazione Prada, Milan