New York

Jiří Georg Dokoupil

Robert Miller Gallery

Jiří Georg Dokoupil’s new works are made from the gentle trace of black soot left by a flickering candle upon the surface of a white gessoed canvas. Through this unorthodox drawing technique, Dokoupil parodies art’s sanctity. By using soot instead of charcoal, he makes punning reference to the Old Master tradition of chiaroscuro drawing. Dokoupil also constructs various correspondences between the image represented and the unusual mode of rendering. Trafic (Traffic, 1989) depicts a highway traffic jam. The layers of candle soot mimic the shimmering effect of heat rising from the automobiles. In addition, the medium suggests the emission of smog. Dokoupil juxtaposes this technique with other images of cleanliness and waste; El Rincon (The closet, 1989) depicts a broom and dust pan, and Lavado (Washer, 1989), a sink and basin.

Dokoupil enlarges the scope of his subject matter to include that residue left by the process of painting. It is in this light that one can comprehend the significance of his works which depict auction house sales of important 19th-century paintings. These images are drawn from photographs documenting recent sales in which famous paintings were sold for record-breaking prices. Subasta Sun Flowers (Auctioned Sun Flowers, 1989) illustrates the sale of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers; Subasta Yo Picasso (Auctioned Yo Picasso, 1989) shows the sale of Picasso’s early self-portrait; and Subasta de Manet—II Million Dollar (Auctioned Manet—11 Million Dollar, 1989) represents a variety of Impressionist paintings hanging behind the auction block.

The central reference in the work, however, exists outside the imagery, in the act of artistic creation itself. In making each of these paintings, Dokoupil had to suspend the canvas from the ceiling, with the gessoed surface facing downward. He then traced photographs by raising a candle to the canvas’ surface and charring it in a pattern that conformed to the lines and forms of a projected image. Thus, the artist made this body of work by raising a lit candle up into the air.

Throughout the history of art, the upraised arm has been a symbol of the individual pursuit of liberty. Although the torch-bearing arm is not evident in Dokoupil’s imagery, it is a significant part of the creative process used to execute the paintings. By assuming the stance of liberty while making the paintings, Dokoupil acts as the enlightened social commentator in order to elucidate the relationship between art and immortality. The works that represent the sale of highly priced paintings play into this theme. Dokoupil chooses soot as his medium in order to refer to art’s impermanence, and the auction setting to refer to the attempt to immortalize it. In so doing, he critiques the human desire to make the artifact eternal, denying the permanent material value of an artwork.

Kirby Gookin