Beatriz González

The Last Table

1970

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On loan

Kunst-Werke Berlin (Berlin, Germany): Beatriz González

Artist
Beatriz González born 1938
Original title
La ultima mesa
Medium
Enamel paint on metal table
Dimensions
Object: 760 x 2053 x 1052 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2013
Reference
T14223

Summary

Created by the Colombian artist Beatriz González, The Last Table 1970 consists of a colourful painting mounted within a rectangular metal table. The four-legged table has a steel frame but is painted with a grainy pattern and decorative lines so that it resembles traditional wooden furniture. Set flush into the table top and surrounded by a narrow border is a large landscape format painting in enamel on a metal plate. The painting depicts Jesus Christ sharing his final meal with his twelve disciples. The composition of the image closely resembles the famous mural painting The Last Supper 1495–8 by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). However, in comparison with Leonardo’s work, González’s version of the scene is characterised by a flattened perspective, reduced detailing and a bold range of block colours, including bright yellows, blues and reds. The painting is signed and dated by the artist in blue paint in its bottom right corner.

The Last Table was made in Bogotá, where González lives and works. The artist began incorporating her paintings into items of furniture (such as beds, mirrors and tables) between 1969 and 1970. As she explained in 2015: ‘I didn’t paint the furniture; I simply purchased it and assembled it with a painting that matched the feel of the object’ (quoted in Morgan and Frigeri 2015, p.151). In a related fashion, the title of the work brings together references to Leonardo’s The Last Supper and the table depicted in the painted scene with the presence of the physical table itself. By appropriating a key work of Western art in an almost kitsch style, and by setting this within an item of ordinary domestic furniture, The Last Table can be seen to examine conventions of authenticity and taste. In 2015 González claimed that she based her painting on popular prints of Leonardo’s work sold in Colombian shops:

The Last Supper was especially popular in Colombia because in every household this image was placed above the main entrance door as a good-luck charm against thieves. In a way the image acquired its own life and many spin-offs were produced.
(Quoted in Morgan and Frigeri 2015, p.151.)

In highlighting how a fifteenth-century Italian painting has been reproduced in twentieth-century Colombia, The Last Table also creates connections between different historical eras and places. In 1977 the critic Marta Traba argued that works such as The Last Table ‘are traditional only inasmuch as they employ the technique of applying paint to enamel with a brush. The visual conception of these works is otherwise strictly contemporary: space is submitted entirely to the surface, and traditional perspective is disregarded’ (Marta Traba, ‘Furniture as Frame’, in Ramírez and Olea 2004, p.152). The fact that González’s painting is located within a metal table that has a faux-wood surface suggests further questions around authenticity and simulation.

Born in Bucaramanga in northern Colombia in 1938, González studied architecture at the Universidad de Colombia (1956–8) before completing an MA in Fine Art at the Escola de Belas Artes de la Universidad de los Andes (1959–62), during which time she began archiving press images. Her subsequent drawings, paintings and prints have examined the media’s role in shaping popular myths. The three 1962 paintings The Suicides of Sisga I (private collection), The Suicides of Sisga II (Museo La Tertulia, Valle de Cauca) and The Suicides of Sisga III (Museo Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá) are based on a widely-circulated photograph of two lovers who drowned themselves in an act of religious devotion. In the 1970s, González’s work demonstrated a particular interest in consumption and consumerism. An engagement with Colombian politics can be seen in works of the following decade such as Interior Decoration 1981 (Tate L03743), a screenprint on curtain fabric that depicts Julio César Turbay Ayala (whose presidency of Colombia between 1978 and 1982 is often associated with violence and political repression) at a glamorous party. González has also been a curator, art historian and teacher, with the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo among the students who have studied with her at Bogotá University.

The Last Table was the first work by González acquired by Tate.

Further reading
Mari Carmen Ramírez and Héctor Olea, Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 2004, pp.148–53, 565, reproduced p.152.
Otras miradas / Other Glances, exhibition catalogue, Galería Gabriela Mistral, Santiago 2005, pp.125–6, 133–5.
Jessica Morgan and Flavia Frigeri (eds.), The World Goes Pop, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2015, pp.150–1, 162, 195, reproduced pp.150–1.

Richard Martin
May 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

González stood out from her contemporaries as one of the first artists in Colombia to draw inspiration from the mass media, creating dialogue between popular narratives and formal painting. In the early 1970s she began to incorporate mass-produced items in her work. In The Last Table she combines an ordinary faux-wood table with a reinterpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. This image circulated widely as a cheap black and white reproduction and was often used as a good luck charm. Here it serves as a symbol of Colombia’s Eurocentric gaze.

Gallery label, February 2016

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