Video room: Mark Lewis

Mark Lewis is a Canadian video artist who lives in London and frequently visits São Paulo, where he has produced work. Among them is Museum (2018), shot in the picture gallery of glass easels designed by Lina Bo Bardi for MASP’s collection, located on the building’s second floor. The glass easel gallery was inaugurated with the new building on Avenida Paulista in 1968, introducing an exhibition display that remains radical to this day; nevertheless it was dismantled in 1996, and reconstructed again in December 2015. As we complete five years of the picture gallery’s reconstruction, Lewis video, gifted to the museum by the artist and here on view, offers us a meditation on the museum, art, and its histories — at MASP and around the world.

In a long, slow, continuous one-shot, the camera strolls through MASP’s second-floor gallery. We recognize paintings by the “great (male) masters” of (European) art history: Piero di Cosimo, Jacopo Tintoretto, Hieronymus Bosch, Rafael, Sandro Botticelli, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Frans Hals, Rembrandt. Lewis has subjected the material to extreme digital manipulation, creating an environment that is at once fantastic and phantasmagoric, where art and architecture, time and history, vision and perception seem to be in the process of melting and decomposition; fracturing and fragmentation; shattering and crystallization. Alternatively, everything could be the vision of a delusional dream during a night of torpor. Or further still, it might be the representation of a lysergic vision, the result of altered states of consciousness, induced by chemical substances of different orders.

However, it may also be possible to identify here a certain criticism of that totalizing and dominating institution, attempting to encompass, classify, confine, organize, and preserve everything, representing a coherent, hierarchical, and significant image of the world and its most illustrious objects: the museum itself. With its inescapable focus on things from the remote or recent past, with its mission to preserve objects from other times, the museum and its collection run the risk of distancing and disconnecting themselves from the present, from contemporary life. “The German word museal has unpleasant overtones,” wrote the German philosopher Theodor Adorno. “It describes objects to which the observer no longer has a vital relationship, and which are in the process of dying. They owe their preservation more to historical respect than to the needs of the present.” The museum would then tend to petrify or ossify, something that Lewis’s video seems to ominously represent. Would we be facing a “museum in ruins,” to use the well-known expression of art historian Douglas Crimp, a reader of Adorno? At a time in which museums around the world are experiencing crises of identity, reevaluating their missions, collections, and purposes to find new ways to engage with art (be it ancient or contemporary) and audiences (whether internal or external), Mark Lewis’s video meditation, full of strange and familiar, frightening and seductive visions, is an incisive and powerful provocation.

CURATED BY Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director