In the mid-fifties, in a Madrid newspaper, distinguished interviewees used to have this question asked: “If a fire broke out in the Museo del Prado, what would you save?”
Jean Cocteau answered he would save the fire. And when Dalí’s turn came, he found himself obliged to go beyond Cocteau’s absurdity. So he said: “I would save the air inside Velázquez’s picture Las Meninas (1656)”.
Wow, Las Meninas! It contains every painting possibility, including the abstract. Manet discovered impressionism in it, Ramón Gaya ornithology, and Picasso and Dalí broke it down to study it in the same way as a curious clumsy person strips a clock down and then has too many pieces... The enigma is still there, inaccessible to trends, and one does not know whether the viewer is the monarch visiting the painting session or a mirror reflecting an impossible self-portrait. In this universe, hermetics mow the lawn in the garden of hermeneutics.
And what would happen if, as they do in the butcher’s, we could empty out all the air contained in Las Meninas? Well, the infantas, the dog, Velázquez, the king and the queen would all sling their hook by the open back door, and the picture-mirror frame would crash into the doorframe, syntactically sealing off any alteration. In short, we would have the opposite of the photo/action entitled La rivoluzione siamo noi (1972) (We are the revolution), in which a Beuys dressed as Indiana Jones leaves a door behind to address the viewer. Hieratical as a Kouros, the made-to-measure liturgy myth-maker takes a leap in the dark from art/representation towards the universe of pretence.
However, as the word “revolution” itself indicates, history is an ever-returning spiral, in which circumstances obey different coordinates each time. And now it seems that El Prado’s door/picture-frame that Beuys left when fleeing has appeared recently at number 47, fourth door, second floor, as if it were the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The form it has adopted this time is a painting frame that contains, on its reverse side, the representation of a door. At the same time, three real doors in “a size for every age” allow one to cross from one side to the other. The feeling you have while passing through it is similar to what the Romans felt when they came back victorious from Gaul, but not too different, however, from what the French periodically feel when they forget about revolution to claim the empire.
Up to this point, after Velázquez and Beuys, Kubrick, Julius Caesar and Napoleon III, Kosuth’s shadow glides over the revolutionary door. It is imperative, then, as a measure to return to order, to refer to the Gran Diccionari de la Llengua Catalana, where we can amazingly read two definitions for “door”:
“ f 1 1 CONSTR Opening specifically made or left in a wall, grille, fence, etc, from the ground to an advisable height, which permits entry to a house, a room, a closed space, etc, or exit from it.
2 panal Opening to gain access to a place. The door in a cave.”
A door is, then, a non-place, an invitation to enter or exit, access, desire, possibility... a frame. If a window invites us to watch, a door allows us to see the window from the inside or from the outside, leaving us completely freedom to choose from which side we want to watch things. Jesús Galdón is the anti-Christo in contemporary art. If the Bulgarian artist works with nature on a large scale, the Poble Sec one is a culture miniaturist. While the cosmopolitan one wraps islands and bridges that can be seen from a space station, our artist excavates the classical tradition underground to discover broken umbilical cords in Roman columns. If Christo’s doors in New York Central Park get nowhere beyond the cover of Sunday supplements, Galdón has discovered under the re-drawn horizon that the universe’s curvature contains the golden proportion without which repeating the revolution eternally would be impossible.
It is a revolution that siamo noi, that we are, a personal and untransferable one, but not for this reason individual. Galdón prefers to cross doors rather than to plant trees, and if behind the frame there is a mirror, so much the better. Lewis Carrol’s little Alice had got ahead of David Lynch in the identity-splitting theory, and the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup raised its possibilities to a sham. A door would be, in the end, anything that invites you to go beyond, that brings you there. Some examples: any bit showing Western prosperity to a Senegalese man will make him turn his way and his dreams in that direction; every page in a book or magazine are nothing but doors we open and close; every look we give or receive are steps going through our soul.
The frontiers in the language Galdón uses do not entail the dissolution of syntagm, as Hugo von Hoffmanstal incorrectly interpreted in his letter to Lord Chandos, nor sterility in wrongly understood nominalism, similar to two mirrors facing each other without any other reference. Galdón summarizes La rivoluzione as “a door representing a door which is a door”. And as a theoretical base, he puts forward Anselmo Rodriguez Hernández’s wonderful treatise 175 modelos de carpintería (CEAC, 1966), in which we can deduce that each wooden door contains one or more doorframes. By the way, one of these 175 models is the open door at the back of Las Meninas. Just a coincidence?
Ricard Mas i Peinado
Historian, art critic and curator.