Alfredo Jaar, best known for his rigorous photo-conceptual work, made these and many other recent sketches of Antonio Gramsci in the wee hours after his assistants went home. They are on view in the group show called “Cleaning Up”, curated by Samuel Draxler for Johannes Vogt Gallery in New York. Draxler tells me that Jaar draws these portraits of the great Italian communist, a hero of his, “to try to capture all of the traits of Gramsci’s character and the nuances of his vision.” That doesn’t feel completely right to me. It feels more like making the portraits is in itself an act of worship, meant to give flesh to a remote figure known mostly in disembodied form, the way a kid raised on radio shows might have tried many different renderings of the Lone Ranger or the Green Hornet. The portraits also strike me as akin to the many faces of Christ permitted in a single Christian devotion, not in conflict with each other because they each reveal a different aspect of His nature. Or maybe the portraits’ irreconcilable variety bears witness to the actual irrelevance of appearance, personality and biography in dealing with a man such as Gramsci, who matters only for his thoughts (which, of course, are about things such as the power of art and images).
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