Koen Vanmechelen’s work Socrates Temptation is featured in the exhibition ‘IMAGO IUSTITIAE’, at the famous Museo Correr in Piazza San Marco in Venice. The exhibition addresses the theme of the iconography of Justice in art and traverses time. Together with Kendell Geers and Ai Weiwei, Vanmechelen is invited to create a contemporary work of art for this show, in collaboration with Berengo Studio.
photo by Francesco Allegretto
Imago iustitiae shows works of art that represent this allegory of Justice as virtue and some of the best-known episodes exemplifying manifest action, such as the Judgement of Solomon or the Last Judgement. In traditional iconography, Justice is depicted with the scales as the oldest of attributes, to which are added over time the sword as an admonitory symbol of her power to punish the wicked, the lion as an expression of strength and the blindfold as a sign of impartiality. But the history of his iconography and attributes has a distant genesis.
Inspired by collections of ancient statues, the Belgian artist created the Temptation series; sculptures of emperors, philosophers, warriors, heroes and gods, but also ordinary men and women sculpted in white marble. They represent humanity that travels and discovers, either physically or intellectually. The heads are covered in egg fragments. The egg generates hybrid creatures: an invitation to flee from the limits of rational and codified thought.
This sculpture took its cue from the portraits of Socrates present in major archaeological collections; it combines the philosopher with an Ibis, which in Ancient Egypt was a symbol linked to the god Thoth, wisdom, he who recorded the weighting of the deceased’s heart and referred its correspondence to truth, so that the body could be reborn and reach the Fields of Reeds. The sacred Ibis has been a legend ever since Ancient Greece; he was a coloniser, symbol of civilization that never stops, with rules and an organisation corresponding to the principle of Aletheia, Truth, intimate companion of Justice, both linked to the principles of nature.
By depicting the tension between our research to capture and document what is justice and truth, and its constantly evolving elusive nature, the artist describes the process of the wise thoughts of the just man: like Socrates we have to question, explore and challenge.
Is the invention of writing a blessing or a curse? Can justice ever be established as absolute? The poisoned chalice reveals its danger, because in the end, the philosopher was condemned to death, condemned to drink from a poisoned chalice for having question the prevailing truth. What is justice? That which defines rectitude, equity or morals? Looking into the eyes of Socrates, we are led to think out of the box and create new combinations.
Freedom and Art are great values of justice. Temptation calls for a rebirth, it does not offend the rules of harmony, but challenges us to think and feel with an open mind.
The exhibition is promoted by the Municipality of Venice in the person of Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, conceived and organised by the European Centre for Tourism and Culture in Rome chaired by Giuseppe Lepore in synergy with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia chaired by Mariacristina Gribaudi and under the patronage of the Comando Interregionale dell'Italia Nord-Orientale della Guardia di Finanza directed by General Carmine Lopez, who has taken care of the highest institutional aspects related to the planning, programming and organisation of the event.
Socrates Temptation by Koen Vanmechelen
From 10 June to 3 September 2023 Venice, Museo Correr
Curated by Marina Mattei
San Marco, 52 Venice, Italy 30124
+39 041 2405211
Photos by Nicola Facchini