CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Cracking Up with Piet Mondrian

Session 17 Display


In this paper, I examine differences between paintings that exhibit the consequences of aging—specifically craquelure—and their reproductions both hard copy and online. I also examine the effects of Mondrian’s frames for his paintings, and their alteration or suppression in actuality and in reproduction. My choice of artworks provides a clear example of the revision of reproductions to conceal the effects of aging and framing: the Neoplasticist paintings of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Although citing other examples, I look in detail at the condition and treatment of Mondrian’s Composition in White, Red, and Blue, 1936 (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart). There is a consistent erasure of both craquelure and frame in the treatment in reproductions of this painting and others. Rather than propose that such a procedure is no more that a misrepresentation of the authentic object, I suggest that the work is, rather, distributed: a nexus of unprivileged prototype and derivatives in any viable medium. Knowledge claims about such things derive not from the prototype alone, nor from the prototype as a privileged item, but from the ever-changing, ever-revised thing-as-nexus.

Biographical Note

Ivan Gaskell is Professor of Cultural History and Museum Studies at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City. Mobilizing non-written traces of the past, he addresses intersections among history, art history, anthropology, and philosophy. As well as writing case studies ranging from seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, Native American baskets, and Congo textiles, he works on underlying philosophical questions. While at Cambridge University, he edited the book seriesCambridge Studies in Philosophy and the Artswith Salim Kemal. He organized numerous exhibitions at Harvard University, where he taught and curated between 1991 and 2011. At the Bard Graduate Center, Gaskell heads the Focus Project, an ongoing series of experimental exhibitions and publications. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of twelve books, including The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish Painting (1990), and Vermeer’s Wager (2000). His most recent book (with Laurel Ulrich, Sara Schechner, and Sarah Anne Carter) is Tangible Things: Making History through Objects (2015). He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and edited volumes in history, art history, and philosophy. He also writes contemporary art criticism, contributing regularly to artUS and West 86th. Ivan Gaskell has served on the TEFAF Old Master Paintings Vetting Committee since 1995.