Pleasure & pain of ‘anon’

There is something rather exciting about a drawer of slides labelled ‘anon’. ‘Anon’ is that admittance that we have no idea to whom we attribute an artwork; it is the recognition, also, that great artworks have not always been produced by the great known masters which fill art historical texts. Some interesting works may well not be canonized. But, where, then do they fit in a system of ‘value’ and ‘use’ which guides my attempt to sieve through thousands of slides to finds the ‘gems’ amongst them? I cannot rely upon the artist’s name to offer any form of justification for its preservation; I cannot place it within a known movement (anonymous artworks do not count in an historicization of the visual); there are unlikely to be any written articles supporting the provenance of either the slide itself or any supporting information for its content.

I am intrigued by one particular slide, “Status of Death” French anon, Paris. It shows three statues – each a different stage of death. The first of the left shows the body in an early state of decline; the outline of the ribs are beginning to show through the skin; the arm and legs muscles are very wasted; the skin on the face is tightening and starting to peel in some sections. The second central sculpture is the body in its near-skeletal stage, yet it still clings fast to the drapes which hang from its body. A rope is entwined around the legs; the body holds something in its hand, but the miniature image is unclear. The mouth is stretch into a ghastly scream-like position. The final statue is pure white bone. Arms hang limp by the side of the body, there is no expression nor movement; the skeleton is held up by a rod through its back. I have no information on the dimensions of the objects depicted in the slide – are they small, only a foot or less in height, or are they full-sized replicas of the human body?

To some extent, what does it matter that I have no named artist to which I can attribute these works? Death and its status is a universal theme stretching across artworks, artists and styles. Perhaps then the value of this particular collection should be considered thematically? How can certain concepts/ ideas/ philosophies be considered in light of these ‘anon’ slides? In the absence of an artist’s name perhaps we are forced to look again at the object – (names can be distracting).

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