A Case of Iconoclasm on the Tip of David’s Toe

Wednesday 11.12.2019

Host: Mireia c. Saladrigues, Doctoral trainee, Academy of Fine Arts, Uniarts Helsinki

Venue: Exhibition Laboratory gallery, Helsinki


What does a hammer blow to a sculpture by Michelangelo tell us about our relationships to the masterpiece (and to art)? Does an act of art destruction provide access to an object-oriented perspective? What sources of information apart from archives and individuals does the impact set free? How did scientific restorers extract data from David’s fragments? How do we embrace/contain the materiality of the (marble) dust? Does it become a testimony of the attack?  

During the one-day gathering, we will move from the particularities of vandalising David towards questions of why spectators deface or manipulate artworks. We will also learn about endeavors to stabilize works of art and about the importance of developing a new “material sensibility” within cultural theories. Through different formats of lectures, the session seeks to connect the incident's human and non-human actors, their positions and voices. The final aim is to evaluate how this approach adds new perspectives to the understanding of responses to art. The program of the day is in English.

Photo: Detail of the Photograph n.5 of David‘s technical examination report by the Scientific Police of Regional Unit, Florence, Italy. Document classified at the Superior Court of Florence. Scanned by Mireia c. Saladrigues. 


Program 11.12.2019

9:30 Coffee

10:00 Welcome and short introduction, Mireia c. Saladrigues 

10:15 Elina Lehtonen: From skeletons to marble, and from marble to dust
An introduction to the basics of the rock cycle explains how rocks are formed on Earth in general and what limestone and marble are. Marble can also be found in Vuosaari, Helsinki, and Lehtonen’s presentation will go through how and when the rock was formed, and what kind of volcanic environment Southern Finland was at that time. The abandoned quarry leads Lehtonen to discuss how and why local stones were extracted. In addition, light will be shed on the geology behind Carrara marble.

11:15 Sari Palosaari: Grinding time
An introduction to the performativity and temporality of stones by artistic means. The proposal is on view in the gallery space during the day. Palosaari’s proposal opens a frame to the constant event of geological time where the mountains grind into stones, the stones into sand, and the sand into dust. In her installations stones autonomously split during the exhibition due to pressure from within them. The time that it takes for the stone to crack is juxtaposed with the human instant and the viewer’s time within the installation.

12:15 Lunch (not included)

13:15 Mireia c. Saladrigues: We could have turned ourselves into sugar
Navigating between history, archive materials, fiction, autobiography and geology, the performative exposition activates some documents and narrations about the hammer blow dealt to Michelangelo’s David. The ongoing project Martellata_14.09.91 presents a dialectical and chrono-material reflection on the iconoclastic act of Piero Cannata by approaching the different voices and perspectives of the incident, which also deal with the materiality of the sculpture.

14:15 Dario Gamboni: About the destruction of art (video lecture)
One of the first art historians to take an interest in vandalism explains in a filmed conversation the differences between iconoclasm and vandalism. The fact that artworks can be destroyed, broken or damaged proves that they are things, addressing art from its materialness. Vandalism would be a consequence, not of hate but of veneration, of its misuse produced by an excess of devotion.

15:15 Coffee 

15:30 Fernando Dominguez-Rubio: Still life: Ecologies of the modern imagination at the art museum
What does it take to sustain the objects through which we build and organize the worlds that we dream and inhabit? The aim of this talk is to answer this question through an approach that takes seriously the seemingly banal fact that objects constantly fall out of place, deteriorate, malfunction, and fall into disrepair. Taking this fact seriously, I argue, requires us to think not in terms of ‘objects’, but ecologically, that is, in terms of the processes and conditions under which certain ‘things’ come to be differentiated and identified as particular kinds of ‘objects’ endowed with particular forms of meaning, value and power. The talk will explore this ecological approach in practice by delving into the rather particular ecology through which a special variety of objects, art objects, are made possible, sustained and imaged at one place: the Museum of Modern Art in New York. If everything goes well, the talk should be an invitation to think about fragility and vulnerability, not as problems to be overcome, but as the inherent conditions of the worlds we dream and inhabit.

16:30–17:00 Final discussion and conclusions