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Jen Fong’s “After Messerschmidt”, Commentary by Guy Zimmerman –


It may be simple happenstance that the “character heads” of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) appear so contemporary today, a fact that has motivated Jen Fong’s recent photographic series on extreme expressions, After Messerschmidt. Working in the Austrian empire in the decade before the French Revolution revised the landscapes (inner and outer) of Europe, Messerschmidt produced a striking series of busts documenting in vivid detail the “sixty-four canonical grimaces” then thought to correspond to the “humours” of the body, and to arise from the somnambulist model of the unconscious articulated by Franz Anton Mesmer. Messerschmidt suffered from a debilitating intestinal illness currently thought to be Crohn’s disease, and in his marbles and bronzes he put his own physical torments to good use. But it’s the relationship to affect as an object of fascination that makes these sculptures seem so strikingly modern. Like Messerschmidt, our attention today is drawn to the expression of affect as it would be to something surreal and uncanny that we sense might release us from a bondage we are only dimly aware of.
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