Art and magic

Scissors 1982 is based on a photograph in a 1920 volume entitled Physical Phenomena of Mediumnism, that shows a Polish medium, Stanislawa Tomczyk, in the process of levitating a pair of scissors. The medium herself is a ghostly image, painted in part with mica on a support of painted fabric. At the right, the canvas has been split vertically by a slit two feet or more in length, as if with the medium’s scissors. An often reproduced picture of the painting shows the artist spreading the cut canvas with his hands, with his face protruding through the fissure. Aside from a witty reference to the cut canvases of Lucio Fontana, the work clearly refers to the magical possibilities of painting, and we are intended to see the painter himself as in some way equivalent to the medium he depicts. At the same time, however, Polke’s own real presence in the photograph of the work he allowed to be published suggests another very down-to-earth view: that painting is a bearer of illusions, a species of chicanery like the practice of mediums.