Luis Jacob, Show Your Wound (detail), 2010–12, one of twenty-six C-prints, each 2 1/4 x 3 1/2".

Luis Jacob, Show Your Wound (detail), 2010–12, one of twenty-six C-prints, each 2 1/4 x 3 1/2".

Luis Jacob

Luis Jacob, Show Your Wound (detail), 2010–12, one of twenty-six C-prints, each 2 1/4 x 3 1/2".

Caution: Exhibitions like this can be addicting. They can make you addicted to images, images of images, images within images, and details—in short, addicted to looking. And this seems to be the goal of Luis Jacob, a Peruvian-born artist based in Toronto. This was his first exhibition at Galerie Max Mayer, which opened a year and a half ago and quickly became a hot spot for young artists. The show not only aroused a craving for images, it used that craving to nurture an awareness of the process of seeing. And it did so with minimal means. Show Your Wound, a set of twenty-six carefully framed photographs taken by Jacob between 2010 and 2012 in museums around the world, was hung in a fixed row on the walls of the gallery’s two small rooms. The images are small, about the size of an iPhone screen. Viewers must get quite close to see the photographs, and are thus forced to widen their eyes and look intensely, with a concentration that larger-format images don’t necessarily demand.

The first photo depicts a detail of a framed painting of a Rococo-era art collection crammed with works from all time periods, amid which a few men are standing, absorbed in contemplation. Seeing is thus already made an explicit theme in this gallery view. Jacob’s second photo shows a close-up of a painting, revealing a crack. In the third, we see part of a painting that recalls Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Thomas doubted not only the report of the other apostles but his own eyes as well. He had to touch Christ’s wound in order to believe. This is the origin of the title of Jacob’s work, and it brings us to the central question he pursues: What is the relationship between seeing and believing? Do we see only what we believe, or is seeing independent of belief?

Viewing the rest of the photos, we can puzzle over exactly what we are seeing with great enjoyment. Jacob’s production offers much to engage the eye. Are we looking at a red square or at the surface of a painting by Malevich? On the hand of Jesus, is that the blood of the crucified, or simply downward-flowing red paint? And what is the relationship between the smooth surface of some basalt sculptures by Joseph Beuys, who also created the legendary installation Zeige deine Wunde (Show Your Wound), 1974–75, and the smooth surface of a late-Baroque wooden bust of the weeping Virgin Mary?

According to the Bible, Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Jacob, on the contrary, seems to demand more of seeing than belief alone can supply. The penultimate photo, of a painting by Renoir—it was the Impressionists who rediscovered how to see—shows a man holding a spyglass to his eye. The final photo shows a voluptuous nude from a pastel by Degas. The naked female figure has always had a strong visual impact—a point of attraction beyond optics. Jacob’s series is therefore a thoroughly good-humored alphabet of seeing, wherein he finally seems to put faith in the act of seeing itself. When asked by the magazine Toronto Life to name ten things he wouldn’t like to live without, Jacob first named a snapshot of himself, which shows him with his eyes wide open.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Anne Posten.