"God is in the details" is a proverb that has been attributed to such distinguished figures as Aby Warburg, Mies van der Rohe and Michelangelo. In the case of Mies, he used the saying because “what struck students of Mies's buildings was their painstaking craftsmanship, their attention to detail,” as described in his New York Times obituary. More to the point is the use of the proverb by Warburg, who is widely considered the founder of modern art historiography on account of his well known Mnemosyne Atlas. “Der liebe Gott steckt im Detail” (The good God is in the detail) is Warburg’s most famous motto and his intended meaning was to highlight the importance of hard labor for reaching one’s goal. On the other hand, Georges Didi-Huberman offers a more in depth interpretation of Warburg’s phrase and dialecticizes it in the following way: “a little devil always nestles in the atlas: that is, in the space of ‘intimate and secret liaisons’ between things or between figures. A devilish genie lies somewhere in the imaginative construction of the ‘correspondences’ and the ‘analogies’ between each particular detail.”
This exhibition aims to pay tribute to those historical figures such as Mies and Warburg, both in terms of modern art’s sophisticated technical developments as well as our ability to order and classify humanity’s infinite past accomplishments. However, in this context I want that tribute to engage the famous proverb in its inverted sense: “The devil is in the details.” As the title of this exhibition, the phrase pretends to point towards those details’ appearances in a work of art that unexpectedly allow viewers to comprehend the work (and even history) in a different way, even when this reading betrays our expectations or completely twists a work’s initial intention.
Instead of just speaking about how important the use of historiography is for this group of artists, I want to draw attention to what Roland Barthes used to call the “Punctum.” That is, that detail in an image (or work) that escapes its own structure, shooting out like an “arrow” towards the viewer.
“The Devil is in the details” also responds to that constant power struggle artists go through in order to be heard and, as a consequence, raise their voices against art historians, critics and curators who are often entitled with the glorification, magnification and idolatry of a select few. The artists selected for this exhibition have turned to the representation of history not just as material itself but also as means by which to criticize how history is constructed. They are not just interested in the past tense or simply reviving archival strategies, but in putting the past in relation to the present and the future, creating overlapping temporalities that bring disparate moments together.
As it has been in the past with artists like Donald Judd and Dan Graham, Louise Lawler and Fred Wilson, Waltercio Caldas and Fernando Bryce, to assume the subject position of authority, of those empowered by the system of art, is also to declare the interchangeability of that position. With their constant recourse to montage, collage, assemblage and other politically loaded artistic gestures, the artists in this exhibition demonstrate how much room remains open for debate, dialogue and speech; sometimes we just need to pay attention to the details.