BOOKS SUMMER SPECIAL ~ FRANCESCO VEZZOLI: MUSEO MUSEION
Hardcover, 17.5x 22.5 cm
Letizia Ragaglia, ed.
Essays by Dieter Roelstraete, Anna Coliva, and Letizia Ragaglia. With an conversation between Cristiana Perrella and Francesco Vezzoli, and a contribution by Cerith Wyn Evans.
“In Defense of Artifice: A Brief Excursus on Being Framed” by Dieter Roelstraete
[. . .] Any discussion of the frame and the artifice of framing as integral to the process of institutionalization—in short, of the frame as one of the primary institutions of art—must, of course, pass through a reading of Jacques Derrida’s La Vérité en peinture, with its elaborate theory of the frame—or, as Derrida prefers to call it in this classic of deconstructive art theory, the parergon: “neither work (ergon) nor outside the work [hors d’œuvre], neither inside nor outside, neither above nor below.”  What is so classically deconstructive about this book? Mostly that, in the one voluminous treatise Derrida decided to dedicate solely to the topic of art, the work of art itself—or the artist him- or herself, for that matter—remains largely invisible. As they should in this particular Derridean case. It is the one truly monumental instance of deconstruction’s engagement with art, painting more precisely. And what do we get to look at through the great thinker’s eyes? The frame. The frame as supplement to the work of art, and the frame as part of the work of art— as a species of work in itself, or something that, quite literally, putting art to work: “the frame labors [travaille] indeed. Place of labor, structurally bordered origin of surplus value, i.e., overflowed [debordée] on these two borders by what it overflows, it gives [travaille] indeed. Like wood. It creaks and cracks, breaks down and dislocates even as it cooperates in the production of the product, overflows it and is deduc(t)ed from it. It never lets itself be simply exposed.”  For Derrida, the ambiguous status and position of the frame is wholly emblematic of the foundational anxiety of the Western aesthetic tradition, one that is forever preoccupied with seeking out the purported “essence” of art, and of any given work of art in particular—Is the door part of the room or its outer edge, i.e., inside or outside? Is that what Marcel Duchamp’s Door: 11, rue Larrey from 1927 is about: the parergon? Where does the artwork, any artwork begin? And where does it end? At the entrance to the museum? The frame is nothing if not thoroughly de-essentializing. In that sense, it is a quintessentially postmodern figure of thought: The truth “in” painting cannot be other than “outside” painting. On the one hand, “this permanent requirement to distinguish between the internal or proper sense and the circumstance of the object being talked about organizes all philosophical discourses on art, the meaning of art and meaning as such, from Plato to Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger.”  On the other hand, “the whole analytic of aesthetic judgment forever assumes that one can distinguish rigorously between the intrinsic and the extrinsic. Aesthetic judgment must properly bear upon intrinsic beauty, not on finery and surrounds. Hence, one must know—this is a fundamental presupposition, presupposing what is fundamental— how to determine the intrinsic—what is framed—and know what one is excluding as frame and outside-the-frame.” 
“Finery and surrounds”—appropriate terms perhaps to lead our train of thought back to Francesco Vezzoli’s world, all the while staying on the track laid out in La Vérité en peinture, which, as we have seen, is mainly to be sought “dehors ou autour de la peinture.” For the frame is evidently only one of many “parerga” out there—many more framing devices exist. Derrida expands his cartography of the parergon with a number of figures (see below) that seem quite appropriate within the context of Vezzoli’s ever-contentious interest in the culture of the ornament—the superficial and the superfluous, the accidental and the incidental, the richly embroidered veils of excess that cloud puritanical elite culture’s illusory dream of essences and inner truths (i.e. Belting’s chimerical “invisible masterpiece,” referred to earlier on versus “finery and surrounds”). Discussing the relationship of the parergon to Kant’s aesthetic theory in particular, Derrida names “as an example among examples the clothing on statues (Gewaender an Statuen),” which “would have the function of a parergon and an ornament. This means (das heisst), as Kant makes clear, that which is not internal or intrinsic (innerlich), as an integral part (als Bestandstueck), to the total representation of the object (in die ganze Vorstellung des Gegenstandes) but which belongs to it only in an extrinsic way (nur aeusserlich) as a surplus, an addition, an adjunct (als Zuthat), a supplement. Hors-d’oeuvres, then, the clothes of statues, which both decorate and veil their nudity.” Derrida continues: “One wonders, too, where to have clothing commence. Where does a parergon begin and end. Would any garment be a parergon. G-strings and the like. What to do with absolutely transparent veils. And how to transpose the statement to painting. For example, Cranach’s Lucretia holds only a light band of transparent veil in front of her sex: where is the parergon? Should one regard as a parergon the dagger which is not part of her naked and natural body and whose point she holds turned toward herself, touching her skin (in that case only the point of the parergon would touch her body, in the middle of a triangle formed by her two breasts and her navel)? A parergon, the necklace that she wears around her neck?”  The point of this long quote is not to draw attention to the appearance of the word G-string in one of the defining tomes of poststructuralist philosophy (though it certainly gives one pause), but to highlight the extent to which the question of the frame, asked with such forceful yet lucid panache in Vezzoli’s curatorial project for the Museion (Museo Museion), aligns with the artist’s long-standing, unendingly divisive preoccupation with the art of embellishment and cosmetic hyperbole as the perceived arch-enemies of much that we naively, and to our own detriment, continue to hold sacred in art. Clothing on statues, absolutely transparent veils, the necklace around her neck—the frame: rather than mere diversions or distractions, these are the parerga that allow us to better see the ergon at hand—the artifice before the art.
 Jacques Derrida, TheTruth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago:The University of Chicago Press, 1987, 9). “Ergon” is Greek for “work” (as in work-of-art); “parergon” literally means that which is attached to the work (of art).The above passage concludes by naming the parergon as that which “gives rise to the work.”
 Derrida., p. 75.
 Derrida., p. 45. The passage continues: “This requirement presupposes a discourse on the limit between the inside and outside of the art object, here a discourse on the frame. Where is it to be found?”
 Derrida, p. 63.
 Derrida., p. 57. It is worth remembering that the logic of the supplement is a cornerstone of Derridean deconstruction; it was one of the key concepts of his groundbreaking De la grammatologie, first published in 1966. So, too, is the philosophy of the trace, moreover, dating back to Derrida’s investigations of Husserlian phenomenology in the early nineteen-sixties.
A hall of the Hermitage Museum with empty frames during the WWII Siege of Leningrad
Nan Goldin, Gina at Bruce’s Dinner Party, NYC, 1991. Museion – Enea Righi Collection. Frame: Caravaggio, San Girolamo, 1605–6
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Francesco Vezzoli, Museo Museion, installation views