Art Seen: Chicago

Drawing the Curtain

MIKA HORIBUCHI // ISSUE 07 SPECIAL EDITION

Selected by the Editors

I. CURTAINS

A Painting Duel: in the 4th century, BCE, at the top of an unnamed Grecian mountain, two of the most famous painters in the village, Zeuxis and Parrhasios, were summoned to a contest. The light was at noon; the sun shone directly above the jury, and not a shadow was seen. Zeuxis is called upon for an unveiling—indeed, behind the curtain (it was important to reveal the work all at once) was his life’s masterpiece. “Draw the Curtain!” exclaimed one of the jurors, and dutifully Zeuxis pulled back the deep blue velvet, uncovering the rendering of an exquisite bowl of fruit. The crowd was overjoyed. “You can taste the pomegranates,” said one of the critics, “the pear glistens with such intensity,” chimed another. At this moment, a bird flew down from the sky, straight into the painted bowl of fruit—from which it had hoped to steal a grape—and fell to the ground; a victim of illusion. Now standing around Parrhasios’ wall, the anticipation built, until the crowd grew impatient. “Please, Parrhasios, it is time to see what you may have done—honor us by drawing back your curtain.” Parrhasios stood in the face of the jury. “I am very sorry, but I cannot,” said the painter, solemnly. “How can that be,” cried out of the onlookers, “You are a cheat! Did you not come prepared for this, a most important contest?” To this, Parrhasios finally responded, “You see, there is no curtain. This is my painting.” No one said a word.

—Stephanie Cristello

II. QUEEN OF HEARTS

Playing cards were widely introduced to Europe in the mid-late 14th century. Around 100 years after, there was a war in England between the house of Lancaster—represented by the symbol of the red rose—and their rival, the house of York—the white rose—who were both dueling for the throne. Four centuries later, Lewis Carroll writes a story in which a young girl finds herself in the Queendom of Hearts, a land where she encounters playing card soldiers painting the white roses red for fear of their merciless Queen. By that time, playing cards, and the Queen of Hearts herself had become iconic images in the West, instantly recognizable. Although the Queen of Hearts as popularized by Carroll, came to be associated with cruelty, apathy, and a humorous rage. A common phrase today, “painting the roses red” means to attempt to cover up one’s mistake, often poorly. On the contrary, Mika Horibuchi has elected to quite literally paint the roses white in her painted interpretations of playing cards. While 2 of Hearts, and 5 of Hearts—both oil paintings on linen—are devoid of any imagery of hearts or numerals, they are able to rely on the familiar proportions, composition, and format of traditional numbered playing cards to carry the reference. Surrounded by a backdrop of greenery, the white roses bloom in place of the cards’ missing hearts.

—Patrick Lanford Stephenson

III. DUCK-RABBIT

The duck-rabbit illusion was first presented in an 1892 issue of the German magazine, Fliegende Blätter .The image was later presented and made famous by phycologist Joseph Jastrow; the image visually grounds the later arguments made by Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations. Used as a primer to many semantics courses, the viewing of the duck-rabbit is dependent on the viewer’s past experiences; they may see either a rabbit or duck but never both simultaneously. With the duckrabbit, Wittgenstein proposes that images are inextricably linked to the social—as thought and language are intertwined—and the act of “seeing” cannot be separated into physiological and psychological experiences. Horibuchi’s work makes use of the duck-rabbit, not because the duck-rabbit needs redoing, but because the duck-rabbit exemplifies (and perhaps explains) the visual illusions she deals with in her body of work. Wittgenstein may propose the tricks, but Horibuchi will build them.

—Gabrielle Welsh


Mika Horibuchi: Chicago Works at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago runs through December 2, 2018.

To see selected images and entirety of Special Edition, please view this piece in the PDF format.

Comments are closed.