contemporary art, video installation

Matt Collishaw, The End of Innocence (2012)

April 28, 2012

One of the more surprising things you might hear about the work of Francis Bacon is that one of his paintings hangs in a museum at the Vatican.

The work is a study for a better known painting of Pope Innocent X. In the subsequent work his holiness appears in a gold cage screaming blue murder.

So the inclusion of an early tilt at this piece of critical comment on the papacy gives new meaning to the phrase broad church.

Both these studies, in which the pope appears in alternating scarlet and mauve can be deciphered in a blizzard of pixels, thanks to a new digital piece by Matt Collishaw.

The scale of the work, its silence, and its stillness put one in a suitably reverential mood. Never mind the fact that Dilston Grove is also a former mission chapel.

But Bacon was no altar boy, and this interpretation of his best known work is not even that faithful. The popes disintegrate and coalesce before your eyes.

At times the 10ft screen is just a blanket of streaming information. Is the pope even there in the background? That’s perhaps a question about faith in the digital age.

The Vatican has bought up plenty of modern art, but they cannot control their image. That has been eroded by an algorithm (here) or by an abuse scandal (everywhere else).

Yet Collishaw’s work is more meditative than blasphemous and to be sure it deals with art history first and religion second. One assumes you can separate those terms.

The End of Innocence brings to mind La Nona Ora by Maurizio Cattelan. The Italian sculptor has put a more final end to things by crushing Pope John Paul II by a meteor.

It also recalls another controversial papal statue by Oliviero Rainaldi. This was never intended to be satire, and so met with criticism all the more fierce. Maybe the piece in question here could replace it.

The End of Innocence can be seen at Dilston Grove, London, until 27 May. See gallery website for more details.

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