Ion Grigorescu

Throat (Self-portrait with Tutankhamen),

1976

Not on display

Artist
Ion Grigorescu born 1945
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print, tempera and oil paint on paper
Dimensions
Support: 595 x 490 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Maria Rus Bojan 2013
Reference
T14036

Summary

Throat (Self-portrait with Tutankhamen) 1976 is a photomontage of two black and white photographs: a self-portrait of the Romanian artist Ion Grigorescu and an image of the mask of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen which has been over-painted with black tempera. The photograph is also painted with golden oil paint. The self-portrait photograph shows the artist bare-chested and looking upwards, with the Tutankhamen image superimposed on his throat.

This piece combines many of the characteristic features of Grigorescu’s work, including the use of his own body, self-portraiture and appropriation. The artist’s use of his own body became one of the most important subjects in his work, serving as a point of departure for reflection on his personal life as well as the political conditions in Romania under President Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime (1965–1989). Although the artist was also interested in the broader existential questions concerning human freedom and agency. In his diary from December 2004 Grigorescu wrote:

Concerning the body art, my works evolved on a formal, visual path, in search of faire vrai [creating truth], an attempt to get out of the picture surface. Writing scenarios, doing theatre in the mirror, voyeurism, illusion, excitement, manipulating optical apparatus, allowing apparatuses to produce art, allowing work to replace the works. This leads to conceptualism … The first body art works were created to be photographed, with no public; more important than action was the result, the drawing.
(Quoted in Dziewanska 2010, p.68.)

The manipulating of photographic material and superimposition of images over each other are other important aspects of Grigorescu’s practice which link this work with several others made during the same period. He also used multiple exposures in many of his photographic series, for example Self Superposed 1977 (Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven), as well as in his experimental films such as Boxing 1977 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The motif of the throat and the decision to combine it with the pharaoh’s image appears in Grigorescu’s notes as early as 1968 when he wrote ‘my throat, seen from the front looks like Tutankhamen’. A pose similar to the one in Throat (Self-portrait with Tutankhamen) is found in Mimicry 1975, a series of black and white photographs documenting the artist’s various facial expressions. The use of gold paint is also a recurring motif, marking the metaphysical and transcendent aspect of Grigorescu’s work. Grigorescu trained as a painter, but throughout his career has made numerous films, photographic series and actions recorded on film as well as paintings, drawings and collages.

Curator and writer Georg Scholhammer has interpreted Grigorescu’s work from the 1970s as follows:

As an artist, however, the young Grigorescu quickly retreats from public view. This is not only because of the political situation, which constricts the possibilities for experimentation but also because his conceptual work has an interior focus. He inaugurates a series of performative-photographic works, the point being to implement a phenomenological reduction, an Epoché that aims to reconstruct identity out of the observation and analysis of the body itself, without ideology or affiliation … The practice of the Epoché, the fiction of a pure, disassociated vision – one of the core concepts of modern self-reference – fails. In the images, there are references to myths, scenes of conspirators, arcane pagan rituals.
(Scholhammer in Dziewanska 2010, pp.50–1.)

Further reading
Ileana Pintilie, Actionism in Romania during the Communist Era, Cluj 2002.
Marta Dziewanska (ed.), Ion Grigorescu. In the Body of the Victim, Warsaw 2010.
Kathrin Rhomberg, ‘Ion Grigorescu’, in 6. Berlin Biennale für zeitgenössische Kunst, 6th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. Katalog/Kurzführer, exhibition catalogue, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin 2010, p.215.

Kasia Redzisz
January 2013

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