Jan Dibbets

Perspective Correction


Jan Dibbets born 1941
Photograph, black and white, on 4 canvases
Support: 1103 x 1100 x 25 mm
support: 1101 x 1100 x 25 mm
support: 1103 x 1104 x 25 mm
support: 1103 x 1101 x 25 mm
Purchased 1973

Not on display

Display caption

This work was made in a park in Amsterdam. It is concerned with illusion and reality, the difference between what the camera sees and what the eye sees. As its title suggests, Dibbets wanted to 'correct' the recessive perspective of a large area of ground. He decided to use light coloured rope that would clearly mark off a cross shaped area of grass. He used much thicker rope for the two top, more distant, right-angles, so that they would appear to be in the same plane as those at the bottom of the photograph. The nearest right angles are approximately eight inches long, whereas those farthest away are each over thirty feet long. Grass was chosen because it did not have obvious perspectival references.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Jan Dibbets born 1941

T01736 Perspective Correction 1968

Each canvas inscribed 'Jan Dibbets 1968' on fold-over edge and marked 'I', 'II', 'III' or 'IV'
Photograph on canvas, four panels, each 43 1/4 x 43 1/4 (110 x 110)
Purchased from the Galleria Sperone (Grant-in-Aid) 1973
Prov: With Galleria Sperone, Turin (purchased from the artist 1971)
Exh: Jan Dibbets, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, December 1969-January 1970 (1, repr.); Jan Dibbets, Zentrum für akruelle Kunst, Aachen, March-April 1970 (works not numbered, repr.)
Repr: Terry Measham, The Moderns 1945-1975 (London 1976), pl.96

Dibbets ceased to paint in 1967 and spent some weeks in London on a British Council grant, ostensibly to study coloured sculpture at St Martin's School of Art. In fact he did not attend any of the sculpture courses and only used the library at St Martin's, but he got to know there George (of Gilbert and George), Richard Long and Hamish Fulton. He returned to Holland with various ideas. These led to his 'Grass Piles', 'Plough and Beach Projects' (in which lines were drawn on nature by ploughing or raking) and his 'Perspective Corrections'.

Because he had been trained as an art teacher, Dibbets had studied perspective. The idea came to him of denying perspective by means of the photograph, of using the distortion of the camera lens to create the illusion of perfect squares, circles and so on which were in contradiction to the recession of the setting. His first 'Perspective Correction' was made soon after his return to Holland, on his sister's lawn, and was done with earth and grass giving the illusion of a square (grass) contained within a square border (of earth). In his second 'Perspective Correction', the motif was two visually parallel lines with bars joining them. The third was a rectangle bisected diagonally.

The use of rope as the material to be photographed overcame the physical difficulties of sand, earth, etc. The rope used in T01736 was light in colour (i.e. Dibbets did not paint it to make it stand out against the grass). To maintain the illusion that the 'lines' making the right angles were of equal thickness, Dibbets had to use thicker rope for the two more distant right angles. The two nearest right angles were only about 28cm long, each, whereas each of the two more distant right-angled rope lines were about 12 metres long.

Dibbets chose grass as the ground surface because he needed a plain surface that had no lines or similar obvious marks, and yet had enough surface incident to show that the surface as a whole was receding into the distance. Both floorboards and linoleum were thus impracticable for different reasons.

T01736 was made early in 1968. To take the photographs Dibbets laid ropes on the grass in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam, at 6 a.m. The photographs were taken by his brother who helped him with his early photography in this way, though Dibbets himself later assumed this function.

His earliest attempts at 'Perspective Corrections' were based on mathematical calculations of perspective, but by the time he made T01736 he had come to operate empirically. The exact position of the ropes was established by Dibbets by eye through the viewfinder of his Yashica 124 MAT camera, using the rectilinear grid which was marked on the viewfinder by the manufacturers. He simply aligned the ropes with this grid.

The negatives and idea-construction drawing for this work are now in the collection of the American painter Robert Mangold.

(This note is based on information from the artist, 16 November 1973 and 12 October 1974).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.171-2, reproduced p.171