Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#1+2 Servaas Schoone 1 Jan 1990

I am stuck between the millstones

The Artists

The Tenacious Immortality of Vincent


I am stuck between the Millstones -

1990 Van Gogh Year. A commemorative spectacle on a grand scale, as if we all needed reminding about Vincent, his Life and his Work. The joke is: he's still alive. How distressing it is that the organisers have forgotten the celebrated guest-of-honour - albeit improbably old and wrinkled. Or is it not perhaps Vincent who, from his beloved Arles, writes to his brother Theo (oh yes, he still lives too, somewhere in Paris): My Dear Theo, how strange it is to find myself popular now and to be able to write to you by means of an audio- tape. My sunflowers are selling really well and I shall be able to pay you back shortly... Meanwhile I sit here inside my own skin and my skin is stuck between the wheels of the fine arts. Like grain between millstones. 'He is stuck between the millstones.' In 1888 he already expressed that feeling in one of his letters and now, more than 100 years later, it overcomes him again.

Despite the fact that he stands at number one (with a bullet) in the all time hit parade,
Vincent is still not happy. And why should he be? He has been declared insane and placed under supervision; his voice has been silenced for so long. Let us hope that he may finally shore in the profits of this year - his Year, so that he can settle his soaring debts before dying. It is, in any event, inevitable that he shall soon (in some mysterious manner?) give up the ghost, so that 1990 will as yet become the year of his death (we must remain practical). The wheels have been switched to accelerated motion, to grind what is left of him to dust.
It is this Vincent, tortured by life, mangled by time and exploited by unscrupulous investors, that Servaas reveals: Vincent vandalised. In an installation from 1987 The Personality Cult III he was symbolically nailed to the cross, and now in / Am Stuck Between The Millstones he speaks from a tacky little plastic sunflower, which is on sale everywhere as commercial advertising material in his honour. It is ludicrous, even laughable, but could anything be more poignant? Behind the flower, that stands on a console covered with a musty cloth, hang three 'damaged old masters' [Crimes) like the writing on the wall. The Sunflowers are there too, vandalised as if by a maniac, by Servaas.

Damaged paintings can enjoy the prospect of great popular appeal. A few decisive slashes with a knife, and forgotten masterpieces again become the subject of animated discussion. 'Torn to shreds and shattered' appeals to the imagination, giving a sort of added value, as if only when something is broken does it reveal itself in its true essence. Damage is caused by the ravages of time, or con be deliberately applied by a crafty hand. On another, more insidious level, the market and media have their own adverse effect on works of art, using them as stakes in the game of supply and demand, and as hot item in a news column: The highest price for the oldest, the newest, the loveliest, the ugliest; the keenest attention to tragedy (just dead, nearly dead, long dead, not yet dead). Treacherous valuations.
Servaas has a large number of Crimes on his conscience: He will, with equal ease, swoop down on a Rembrandt as on a Mondriaan, a Jeff Koons, or a Guillaume Bijl. With a swift gesture he transforms hyper-topical works of art to old masters, and he shows the vandalisation of all his victims as 'concrete sign'.

Servaas does not want to destroy art - he chooses the subjects of his Crimes with loving core - but he does wont to illustrate the reality of its vulnerability. I Am Stuck Between the Millstones is also an ode to Vincent. Servaas stands up for his colleague through all the ballyhoo and agitation to show just what he has landed in. Do leave the man alone!