Kathleen Gilje: The Ingres Drawings: Restored


As a kid, I used to like to draw moustaches on anyone who appeared on the front page of the paper-and I know I was not alone in this sort of activity. Image altering is a device known not only to children; a number of artists have taken up this practice as well. Painter and draftsman Kathleen Gilje, a Brooklyn native, follows in the tradition of Duchamp and Warhol, among others. Gilje's new show, The Ingres Drawings: Restored, is a series of pencil portraits copied from the drawings of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the neoclassical French artist. The copied drawings are quite convincing: trained as a restorer, Gilje works exactly to scale, using materials as much like those used in the original works as possible. She even signs them "Ingres." But these are not exact copies.

The copies of Ingres's portraits have been altered, or, to use Gilje's term, "restored." Instead of adding moustaches to these 19th century French figures, Gilje inserts contemporary references into the images. One man wears a black leather harness under his period jacket. A woman in an Empire dress and plumed hat displays her nipple rings and Warhol himself appears in a triple portrait. The question is, are Gilje's drawings anything more than amusing?

Though amusement alone seems an acceptable end in the art world these days, Gilje drawings are more then simple fun. Her accomplishment is that she makes the viewer reexamine the act of seeing. Because Gilje alternates more subtle "restorations" with overt ones, even an uninformed viewer will catch onto her game. Gilje's work makes you realize how quickly we scan images and, as a result, how much we miss. She asks that we reconsider the act of looking at paintings from the past, and perhaps art in general. No small mental task, but one well worth the effort, both Gilje's and our own.

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