Enfilade

Etc, Etc.

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 15, 2009

39853773Umberto Eco served as guest-curator for the Louvre’s current exhibition Vertige de la Liste (Vertigo of Lists), on view until December 13. The scholar’s celebrity status has garnered lots of attention for the show (in addition to being taken up by the Associated Press, it’s been covered by Spiegel, Salon, and L’Express). The publisher’s description of the book accompanying the show, calls Eco “a modern-day Diderot,” explaining that here he “examines the Western mind’s predilection for list-making and the encyclopedic.” With material ranging from ancient and medieval lists (Homeric catalogues and lists of saints) to early modern “catalogues of plants [and] collections of art,” the eighteenth century would seem like a crucial period, and there is apparently at least one painting by Panini included. Still, for all of the talk of lists, one that seems to be missing (even from the Louvre’s site) is an exhibition checklist. Those of us who are unable to see the show should, however, have a better sense of its contents soon enough; the English edition of The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay is schedule for publication on November 17.

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Vertige de la Liste
Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2 November — 13 December 2009

The following account of the exhibition comes from Cristina Carrillo De Albornoz’s coverage in The Art Newspaper:

After Robert Badinter, Toni Morrison, Anselm Kiefer and Pierre Boulez, Umberto Eco is the next special guest curator of the Louvre. A noted historian and semiotician before he brought these sensibilities to bear on major novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, Eco has spent almost two years in residence at the Louvre. His chosen subject is “The Infinity of Lists”, a tour through art, literature and music based on the theme of lists and motivated by his fascination with numbers (until 13 December). “The subject of lists has been a theme of many writers from Homer onwards. My great challenge was to transfer it to painting and music and to see whether I could find equivalents in the Louvre, because frankly when I suggested the subject I had no idea how I would write about visual lists,” says Eco.

“The starting point for my ‘list of lists’ was Homer’s Iliad: firstly the creation of Achilles’ shield by Hephaestus, which not only symbolises perfect form but is in itself a work of art on which is engraved what is considered an allegory of the creation of the universe, an overall vision of Homer’s world. And secondly, the part where he lists all the ships leaving for the Trojan war.” Eco plays with these two opposing dimensions—perfect form and the list—in an attempt to rationalise the world. “The shield of Achilles is the epiphany of form, and every picture in an artist’s search for that form is a shield of Achilles,” concludes Eco. “Behind each list is the sense of ineffability.”

This impulse has recurred through the ages from music to literature to art. Eco refers to this obsession itself as a “giddiness of lists” but shows how in the right hands it can be a “poetics of catalogues.” From medieval reliquaries to Andy Warhol’s compulsive collecting, Umberto Eco reflects in his inimitably inspiring way on how such catalogues mirror the spirit of their times. . . .

For the full article, click here»