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Smoke, Colours and Loans

If one were to pinpoint the intellectual impulse of the art historical section of Manifesta 9 to a single quotation, this would be found in Lewis Mumford’s inventive explanation of the rejection of colour in painting as a consequences of the air pollution of the 19th century:

“The enfeeblement of elementary taste-discrimination extended to other departments than food: colour-discrimination became feeble, too: the darker tones, the soberer colours, the dingier mixtures, were preferred to pure bright colours, and both the Pre-Raphaeilites and the Impressionist painters were reviled by the bourgeoisie because their pure colours were thought ‘unnatural’ and ‘inartistic’” (1961:537).

Independently of the scientific value of Mumford’s interpretation of the extended aesthetic consequences of the rise of “coketown”, his insight on the role of the Industrial Revolution in the dialectic between novelty and tradition in the visual diet of modern art induced the curator of Manifesta 9 to dream up the possibility of using the former Waterschei coal mine to display works by the likes of Claude Monet, Joseph M. W. Turner, Vincent van Gogh and James Whistler, as well as that of trying to borrow the Rosa Luxemburg’s herbarium, now held at the State Archives in Warsaw, which she compiled in 18 fragile notebooks while botanising in her German prison cell between 1913 and 1918 (see Luxemburg 2009). None of those loans materialised, either because the works in question were committed to other projects or out of conservatorial concerns. Curatorial dreams, too, can choke in smoke. CM