CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide


Exhibition: 2 September - 31 October 2004

Guest curator

Andrew Lamprecht, lecturer in Theory and Discourse of Art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town

Museum press release, September 2004

This exhibition consists of an unusual, short-term curatorial “intervention” using Netherlandish 17th century paintings from the Michaelis Collection. In this conceptual intervention, all the works on display in the Old Townhouse Museum will be hung “the wrong way” so that only their backs can be seen by the viewer.

Curated by Andrew Lamprecht of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, the exhibition will function on several levels. Firstly, it will operate as a contemporary art installation that will raise questions and issues around perceptions and public expectations in a traditional gallery space. Secondly, it will draw attention to the
important information and the deductions that can be drawn from the historical evidence found on the backs of pictures.

Old labels, inscriptions and other material have become attached to paintings over hundreds of years, providing clues to their previous ownership, origin, provenance and how they were made. Usually only accessible to specialists, the “hidden” side of a painting often has a unique story to tell.

Museum information by guest curator Andrew Lamprecht

Flip is an exhibition of the reverse sides of Netherlandish 17th century paintings in the Michaelis Collection, presented to the nation by Sir Max Michaelis in 1914.

At a primary level this is a curatorial intervention that seeks to radically transform an existing museum. Other than the text you are now reading, the museum remains as it would be, were the pictures on view “the right way”. This act forces the viewers to consider what it is that has become the subject of their gaze. The backs of the paintings now take on a different aspect. Three-dimensional features are highlighted and pictures begin to tell a new story.

Art historians and museum curators have a long familiarity with the backs of paintings, which provide vital clues in the task of making attributions, as well as of tracing the provenance, or the line of ownership, of the works that they are studying or that are in their care. These backs are fascinating visual objects in their own right, and a visitor with patience will be able to trace years of ownership, care (or neglect), restoration and the vagaries of the saleroom and picture dealer. During its history, the creation of a picture may have been ascribed to an artist other than the one by whom it is now believed to have been painted. This information can sometimes be gleaned from evidence on its back.

Viewers may approach this exhibition in a number of ways: forensically (trying to seek clues to unravel a mystery); aesthetically (taking pleasure in a new view of something familiar); politically (seeing the history of the Michaelis gift and the significance of Netherlandish artists in uniting the white population in the early days of Union); conceptually (attempting to seek meaning in the curatorial act); or in countless other ways that are open to enquiring minds.

Each viewer will make his or her own observations and discoveries here. Some will be fascinated, some may turn away. The choice depends on the imagination and patience of the viewer.