Matts Leiderstam

Matts Leiderstam’s exhibition at Magasin 3 contains many levels and subsets. Grand Tour, 1996–, first presented at the Venice Biennale in 1997, provides a unified setting for many of Leiderstam’s key projects and models them into one consistent body of work. The exhibition, which fits into a single spacious room, takes us through years of activity and dispatches us to several countries in different time zones. The display has the look of a library or classical art research center, right down to paintings that would appear to be from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. There are reading tables with books, slides, models, and computer screens. We are invited to browse this ensemble at our own leisure, to search for hints and connections between the parts, perhaps using one of the magnifying glasses or the scope provided to examine details that would otherwise remain invisible. Articles and commentaries add new layers to the visuals. Moreover, Grand Tour is a digital database available both on disc and as a website.

The Grand Tour itself, the trip through Italy formerly made by wealthy young European men for the purpose of absorbing culture, becomes an underlying metaphor conveyed through both documented observations and imaginary reconstructions. In parallel, Leiderstam’s own modus operandi is also very much about traveling and cultural studies, about exploring an environment and your own place in it. Themes of observing and of being observed, of seeing and being seen, are central to Leiderstam’s work, as are notions of copying, repetition, and transformation. All of this becomes infused, in his treatment, with elements of gay cruising culture. In the installation After Claude Monet (1840–1926), Morning on the Seine, near Givenchy, 1897, 2003, he presents a book with a reproduction of Monet’s painting, a succession of photographs of the Fenway Memorial Garden near the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and a copy of the Spartacus International Gay Guide, drawing parallels between the site—one of the cruising spots listed in the guide—and Monet’s landscape. In After Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), Landscape with a Man Scooping Water from a Stream, 1637, 1998, Leiderstam copies a reproduction of the painting but adds his own emphasis on the coded communication between the depicted men. Painting becomes a performative site, and the process of copying becomes a metaphor for exploring the role of the subject.

There is a strong academic dimension to Leiderstam’s work. While filtering his research through a subjective gaze, turning his subjects away from the mainstream interpretation, he still maintains a framework of scholarly objectivity. As Jan Avgikos notes in her exhibition text, “The idea of seeing differently resonates with the idea of seeing difference. Leiderstam colonizes art history with an intention to erase the heterosexual orientation of Western art.” His work shows how the ordinary space of art history is ready to be turned around.

Leiderstam has a special part to play in contemporary art. Purposefully fusing artistic practice with theoretical articulation, he is an artist, an art historian, a cultural theorist, an observer of practice, a historical chronicler of observation, and so on. He has found his own equilibrium in relation to the institutional worlds of art and research. This exhibition demonstrates his productive cohabitation with such institutions. For all its multiplicity of levels, its effect is unified, remaining on message from its smallest details to the grand level of metadiscourse.

Liutauras Psibilskis