Diderot’s Encyclopédie and Madame de Pompadour are at the heart of Ken Aptekar’s exhibition. How, one might wonder, can a 300 year-old encyclopedia and Louis XV’s mistress possibly matter today? Secularism and freedom of thought triumphed in French philosopher Denis Diderot’s massive publishing project, a result of reason and the transmission of knowledge to empower human will. Now consider Trump’s disdain for facts, #metoo, the world-wide rise of authoritarian leaders and religious fundamentalism.
Aptekar’s digital inkjet prints for the exhibition telescope the 18th century right into the 21st.
Diderot’s ambitious publication only saw the light of day after Mme de Pompadour pried the cash from her rich and powerful lover. In his video for the show, THREE ACTS, Aptekar is transformed onscreen by a make-up artist into Louis XV, then Mme de Pompadour, and finally into the puzzled artist who made the video. What is the difference between a woman who depends on the whims of a king, and an artist dependent on the vagaries of the art world?
The majesterial national library in Autun, Burgundy, is the setting for the exhibition. Pages from Diderot’s original volumes will be shown alongside Aptekar’s take on them in the Rare Book Room.
After the exhibition ends in Autun, it may well travel to the US. “I’m thrilled,” Aptekar reports, “that several important libraries in the States with copies of the 18th century Encyclopédie are interested in the exhibition.”