The myth of the “non finito”, of the unfinished in art, begins necessarily and topically with Michelangelo. If we listen to “foundational” critics, such as the Victorian Walter Pater, this has to do, deep down, with the loss of innocence, or the introduction of existential doubt, of goodbye, for better or worse, to the theological simplicity of the old masters. The face of ‘Day’, in the Medici tombs, would be the example of the voluntary unfinished, used as an expressive tool, and the Rondanini Pietà, an unfinished project, produced in equal parts between the will and death.
From Michelangelo to drawings
Miguel Ángel is not physically present (it is difficult) in this exhibition on the ‘unfinished’ of the CaixaForum, but his ghost is, and it is still the unavoidable reference for the authors who meet in the catalogue, beginning with the essay by the curator, María Bolaños (until recently, director of the National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid).
Above all, Miguel Ángel is the essential protagonist of the essay by Miguel Sobrino, theoretician and practitioner of sculpture, who reminds us that “to make a sculpture is to remove from a stone what is left over”, an idea that would lead, by rebound, to ‘ non finito’ sculptural, which would be to leave half, so that the unfinished works become lessons on how to make a sculpture. Some of the pieces we see in the exhibition, such as Baltasar Lobo’s ‘Head of a Horse’, are very significant in that sense.
José María Parreño, in another essay, and the curator herself recall how much the concept of the unfinished has been able to change since the avant-garde, and above all, at the moment when the processes and not the final work become what is important. María Bolaños provides an impressive quote from Walter Benjamin: “Every finished work of art is the funeral mask of your intuition.” Of course, this only represents an intermediate stage, that of the criticism of modernity towards the artistic object, which will conclude in the discarding of an impossible final objective, now unnecessary. As what is exhibited in the museum would always be an intermediate point (or a failure), an art of pure making (and unmaking) will be preferred.
The very concept of the ‘non-finite’ can be applied to an exhibition such as this one, whose subject, deep down, seems unfathomable. Because, compared to abandonment in sculpture (where something is left over), we have the outline in painting (where something is missing); and we also have the damaged or incomplete works that Archeology provides, and that feed a paradoxical canon of mutilated figures; plus the announced failures, of which the Tower of Babel is a paradigm, or infinity as an impossible and irresistible matter. And etcetera, etcetera.
The exhibition, magnificent, is an invitation to look differently. The rooms are populated with excellent, unique pieces that come from numerous collections
The exhibition, magnificent, is an invitation to look differently. The rooms are filled with excellent, unique pieces that come from numerous collections. Among other things, we have a very important set of drawings from the Abelló collection, among which, of course, the one by Van Gogh (a villager’s head, Dutch period) will attract attention, but which includes other wonders from several centuries, from Tiepolo to Baselitz.
A regular collaborator of the La Caixa Foundation, the British Museum continues to be a source of rarities that invite reflection, such as a “bizarre” piece by the baroque Bracelli, a precursor to De Chirico, or like that fragment of a Greek frieze, whose schematic is justified by the height at which it was located, which would make the detail useless. At the level of our eyes, this frieze reveals to us the plot of art. The same thing happens when we are shown the underside of a carving by Berruguete, when it is removed from its altar. The trap and the cardboard of the work of art is also manifested, in a literal way, in the template of the ‘Great Dancer’, by Pablo Gargallo.
Since the exhibition brings some of my favorite artists to my city, I can’t complain at all. We have a ‘frottage’ by Max Ernst, or a film by William Kentridge, before which it is worth losing the eight minutes it lasts.
William Kentridge is the contemporary magician of charcoal, his thing is an endless sketch, a continuous correction on paper, which only knows how to capture itself as a document, through photographs, then animation films. We have a painting of the lofty Agnes Martin. Here, what he said about the stagecraft enters into crisis, because, from a radical asceticism, the lines of the pencil on the canvas are left bare, and not perfect lines, like an engineer’s rule, but more human, like a seamstress’s. Alongside Agnes Martin, on a priceless wall, are fellow mystics: Joseph Beuys, Wassily Kandinsky, Jorge Oteiza, and Marc Chagall.
This is the chapter or cabinet that the curator dedicates to ‘abbreviations’, which she calls challenges to the conventional finish.
As a precedent for this idea is El Greco, a ‘flaming’ Saint John the Evangelist that reminds me that, in parallel to this exhibition, the Goya Museum, of the Ibercaja Foundation, has just inaugurated an exhibition on Doménikos Theotokópoulos, which complements it well, and ends up illuminating the debate between the finished and the unfinished.
PAINTING AND SCULPTURE
‘Non finite. The art of the unfinished’. Various authors. Caixaforum. Saragossa. Until May 29. Curator: María Bolaños. Director of the National Sculpture Museum of Valladolid.