A major new National Gallery exhibition looks at twins in life and in art

Before the age of mechanical reproduction, some of the greatest artists made the most of their talent by making the same painting more than once. Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, for example, painted at least six identical copies of the The young draftsman and four of The embroiderer. With their almost perfect match of shape and color, these popular photos can be sold to more than one collector. But they served equally to show Chardin’s mastery of his medium. Some of the greatest connoisseurs showed their appreciation by acquiring several copies of the same image.

When Robert Rauschenberg undertook to make the same painting twice in 1957, almost two centuries after Chardin’s death, a similar gambit conveyed a very different meaning. Drawing on the tradition of Abstract Expressionism, foreshadowing Pop Art, Fact 1 and Act II are less a display of artistic mastery than a challenge to everything Rauschenberg’s contemporaries held sacred. in Fact 2 Rauschenberg carefully copied the spontaneous brushstrokes of Fact 1, implicitly questioning AbEx’s vernacular, in which gestural extravagance was meant to display raw emotion. Lest anyone forget how much the stakes have changed since mechanical reproduction gave sanctity to the artist’s hand, Rauschenberg punctuated his paintings with printed material cut from newspapers: mass-produced images made unique by their uneven margins and uniquely the same by replication of their marginal irregularities. .

Fact 1 and Act II brilliantly establishing the tantalizing premise of The double, a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The exhibition shows dozens of instances of deliberate duplication by artists in the 1920sth and 21St century. Like Chardin, some of them show unusual skill in the art of replication. Unlike Chardin, and like Rauschenberg, most of them are interested in exploring contemporary society through the dynamics of similarity and difference.

Several of the works challenge assumptions about phenomena that we usually take for granted. For example, we expect each glass to break differently, a commonplace disproved by Jorge Machi in Parallel lives. Mackie faithfully reproduces the pattern of shards striking a window he smashed with a hammer, forcing viewers to accept the unexpected when they encounter the original and the copy side by side.

Vija Celmins achieves a similar feat with Blackboard Table #14, precision crafting of an antique plate counterpart. Even more so than Chardin’s paintings, they are indistinguishable.

Both artists question our instincts for authenticity by performing minor acts of forgery that falsify everyday processes of entropy. But there is more to these works than simple deception. Fraudulent copying of art often involves artificial aging. Macchi and Celmins flaunt what the criminal counterfeiters are trying to cover up. The aging process itself is their subject. They duplicate time – a moment Parallel livesa century in Blackboard chart – slyly suggesting that the experiences may be superficially identical but ultimately incompatible.

Ronnie Horn undertakes a doubling act that more easily lives up to expectations, at least in terms of material and production. The things that happen again consists of two truncated cones made of solid copper, each weighing one ton. Both are forged and machined to identical specifications, making them as indistinguishable as parts produced on a factory assembly line. But their relationship between them is not stable and changes depending on their arrangement in the museum. Horn specified that they can be configured in ways that make them look the same or different, or even look like two sides of a symmetrical object. It’s all a matter of perspective.

In this case, The things that happen again it formalizes the ways in which we perceive everything in our environment. A forest, for example, can appear monotonous or appear overflowing with biodiversity depending on how we have been conditioned to view it. Trees can be considered as a single living system, population or planks of timber. We must choose our contextual framework with deliberate clarity. Horn’s doubling reveals biases that affect our untested judgment, thoroughly demonstrated in controlled settings.

Of course, Horn’s essay on optics is equally relevant to the way we perceive people, which is made clear in photographs of identical twins by artists ranging from Diane Arbus to Seydoux Keita. These images encourage us to compare and contrast siblings as we look back and forth between Celmin’s plates, Macchi’s glass and Rauschenberg’s paintings.

Humanity is plagued by the challenge of treating all people as equals while honoring the uniqueness of each person. Our indifference to other beings is no less harmful. More than just an expression of these problems, the art of the double can prepare the eyes and the mind to see through our prejudices.

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