Critics’ Picks

Installation view, 2006.

Installation view, 2006.

Paris

Mike Kelley

Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre
June 14–September 18, 2006

Mike Kelley's multimedia installation, nestled amid the remnants of the Louvre's medieval foundations, resurrects two prominent American paintings that the artist discovered during his youthful forays into the Detroit Institute of Art. Immersing audiences in atmospheric sound and luminous film projections, Kelley revisits the formal compositions of John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark, 1777, and Thomas Wilmer Dewing's The Recitation, 1891. Animating these historic works, Kelley's films zoom in on the paintings’ details, exaggerating Copley's vicious shark jaws and Dewing's haughtily turned shoulder. Kelley interrogates these meticulously painted surfaces, his lens jumping across the canvases as though it were following the movement of the artist’s own curious eyes. Also included in the show are seven pencil studies of Watson and the Shark, which pull apart the carefully positioned elements of Copley's composition by isolating faces, limbs, and figures. Returning the two paintings to their original cultural milieu, Kelley layers the films with music and poetry by the artists’ contemporaries. Sailor songs provide a score for Watson and his rescuers, while poems by Julia Ward Howe accompany Dewing’s two ladies. While vividly present, these works are also laden with a dense network of contextual references, sinking them back in time under the weight of their own histories.