On Sunday Catherine and I had lunch at the Queen Victoria Market; spicy bratwurst with sauerkraut from the Melbourne Bratwurst Shop. Although it was nothing like the food served at the last supper but it was a delicious lunch – I picked up a flyer advertising a “Last Supper Foodies Tour” at the market, if the hyper-real experience of Peter Greenaway’s Leonardo’s Last Supper wasn’t enough for your senses.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper was a failure. Ask the monks of Sta. Maria delle Grazie in Milan who commissioned it. They were calling for Leonardo to come back and repair it shortly after he completed it. It was a failure of technique and materials. Restorers have been trying to repair it ever since. Like the restorers many artists have been inspired by this magnificent failure to attempt to complete it themselves.
Peter Greenaway version of Leonardo’s Last Supper at the North Melbourne Town Hall is a triumph of technique and technology. The installation is the same size as the refectory of Sta. Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, a portion of surviving frescoed wall with a window (allied air forces bombing destroyed much of refectory in WWII) and the opposite Renaissance fresco of a crucifixion are projected onto the space. In the middle stands a table covered in a white cloth. The table is laid out corresponding with the painting in all white plates, mugs, bread and chicken as in the painting. This three-dimensional hyper-real and arty white simulacrum is the least tasteful aspect of the installation.
The light projection onto the painting was impressive and dramatic; there is no narrator or a narrative to the 20-minute audio-visual experience. Days pass by as the light from a window crosses the painting. Greenaway plays with the image creating a baroque quality with chiaroscuro lighting, highlighting the variety of hand gestures, options for a restoration and explorations of light sources. For me the extreme close-up of the painting was the best part, the isolated and cracked bits of paint become a landscape that you travel across, as viewed through an art restorers lens. The last of the paint is about to fall off the wall. Leonardo’s Last Supper raises the question how much does the technical success matter compared to the content and composition?
I’ve enjoyed many of Peter Greenaway films and other productions for decades. I enjoy his love of intrigue and ability to assemble information into a dramatic presentation, as in his Rembrandt’s J’accuse (2008) or Darwin (1993). Leonardo’s Last Supper is part of Greenaway’s series of “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited” returning to the ambition of his youth to be a painter. Although the audience was encouraged by the ushers before entering the exhibition to move about during the exhibition there was little reason to do anything more than turn around to look at the screen on the opposite wall.
“Look beyond the surface. You won’t believe your eyes” is the sales pitch for this multimedia installation at the North Melbourne Town Hall. The festival website also suggested visiting “Domov Gallery, adjacent to Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, and see the series of prints that demonstrate Andy Warhol’s fascination with The Last Supper.” I haven’t heard of Domov Gallery before; it is a small white walled gallery next to the North Melbourne Town Hall with half a dozen small prints by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s Last Supper series are just another popular image copied by Warhol.
Catherine and I walked back through North Melbourne stopping to look at the Thread Den on Webbs Lane. Thread Den has local independent designer clothes and jewellery, along with vintage clothing for men and women; it also runs sewing classes and has children’s craft room. We went down Webbs Lane so that I could photograph some of the street art there and had a look at the exhibition in Famous When Dead – Urban Art Agenda #3, an exhibition of international stencil artists from Europe, Brazil, USA, Iran and Australia. We then bought some bargain priced meat at the Victoria Market (there are always some good deals around closing time) had a coffee and took the tram home.