A change in essence and form is required.
The overcoming of painting, sculpture, poetry and music is required. […]
By invoking this change in the nature of man, […] we abandon the practice of known art forms, we approach the development of an art based on the unity of time and space.
Lucio Fontana, Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946.
In the pictorial art of Marije Gertenbach, the research for space, the overcoming of the physical limits of painting, is the essential base from which her artistic inquiry starts. The Dutch artist constantly pursues the desire to trespass the pre-established limits of the canvas to access an enlarged dimension on which to operate and thus be able to interact with a dilated space more closely linked to reality. Gertenbach sees space as a social entity in which there is a cultural evolution perceivable in the art that follows.
Starting from the Dürer’s definition, “Item Perspectiva ist ein lateinisch Wort, bedeutet ein Durchsehen” [perspectiva is a Latin word that means to look through, ed], as Erwin Panofsky did in Perspective as Symbolic Form (1927), it is possible to analyse the concept of space from classical era to the modern age. The essay demonstrates how artists in the past have represented spatiality according to their contemporary conception of spatiality itself and their surrounding world.
This is a concept which features the artistic research of Gertenbach who, in fact, has always been interested and fascinated by mural painting, where pictorial spatiality is best expressed and the narrative cycle becomes the expression of an era, of the cultural Weltanschauung of a given period. On her trip to Italy, Gertenbach was attracted by Giotto’s art and his pictorial cycles on the Life of St. Francis (Upper Church, Assisi, 1292-1296) and on the The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Life of Christ (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 1303-1305). They include all the scientific evolutions of the perspective-spatial representation system and the symbolic forms of a conception elaborated by the culture of the time. In these spaces circumscribed by the paintings, it is possible to experiment with the eyes and the mind the Giotto’s aesthetics, which marks the spaces and the narrative registers with masterly executive skill and creative ideas. We are faced with a completely innovative mastery that Gertenbach resumes in her pictorial installations where she tries to recreate that sense of estrangement from the real to introduce us into a private sensorial and emotional dimension, the same that the people of that time experienced and, in particular, the “illiterates” of Gregory the Great in contemplating Giotto’s Lives.
Moreover, Gertenbach is intrigued by how today we usually enjoy the wall decorations often detached from their original spaces for conservative reasons to be kept in museums, in completely different contexts with respect to their original destination. This process of estrangement is of interest for her artistic research in order to lose the picture from its frame allowing us, in a certain way, to recognize and attribute an eternal value to the creative gesture.
The artist also shows a marked interest in the private places, as well as their pictorial motifs, of the popes from the Renaissance period and how they have changed their function and meaning over the centuries. Starting from the reading of the book by Leny Louise Waarts, Badkamers voor pausen en prelaten [Baths for Popes and Prelates, ed] (2014), Gertenbach, as painter, is interested in the a priori consideration of human presence, of its physical and interpretative interaction of such decorations and spaces, and its cultural evolution. The taste for the recovery of the Ancient was a fundamental component in the Renaissance that spread out both in aspects of costume and in the artistic field, with the involvement of the school of Raffaello in the grotesque decoration of the Cardinal Bibbiena’s Stove in the Vatican Palaces (1516) and of the Bathhouse of Clemente VII (1525). These ornaments also had an explicit function not only decorative but also practical according to the medicines of the era in which the vision of certain subjects was recommended to prepare the observer for a consequent well-being. The personal physician of Pope Urban VIII, Giulio Mancini formulated a treatise, Considerazioni sulla pittura [Thoughts on painting, ed] (1617-1621), dedicating the second part to these themes.
All this demonstrates that there is no contrast between ancient spatiality and Renaissance spatiality: in ancient era there was an idea of finite, non-homogeneous space, in relation to spatial physiological perception, whereas in the modern world it is based on mathematical-geometrical principles, where the space is infinite, homogeneous and therefore systematic.
With Panofsky we come to define a thesis that confers a contiguous and harmonious evolution of the spirit to the idea of the evolution of space, just as Gertenbach shows us with her work in perennial historical evolution.
Marije Gertenbach overcomes the two-dimensionality of the painting to explode the art in the physical context. The space is absorbed by the painting, which, in its spreading in the environment, also changes the exhibition concept, no longer framed canvas hanging on the walls, but coloured walls. Her artistic proposals burst into space, unhinging the traditional rules of painting to directly involve the viewer. The expressive freedom of the artist acts on the viewer generating different moods and totally involving the audience in the scenario created by her. The work of art is therefore actively experimented, experienced in first person through a real sensory involvement. The architecture of removable and readable canvases shows the ephemeral character of art as well as of life itself.