Gregory Perkel / Savonarola Suite


AN Feb 2000 #1545F, 2019
Archival ink jet print on Epson exhibition fiber paper, framed
Image: 18x24in, Paper: 24x30in, Frame: 25x31in
Edition of 5 with 2AP


Set of photographs selected in conjunction with the artist himself from thousands of photographs he took during the real-time burning of 700 monthly issues of Art in America and ArtNews magazines.

Documenting a fiery act of destruction by burning called for the design and fabrication of a steel grating structure, named "Savonarola" in honor of the famous 15th century Italian monk Girolamo Savonarola who appealed to the citizens of Florence to burn “bourgeois” luxury items, including paintings, in the flames of a vast fire set in the central square of the city. Many answered his call, including the great Botticelli who threw his drawings into the fire and never touched a paint brush again. In fact, this ritual act by Botticelli became the conceptual framework for the Savonarola Suite.

As the incineration of the magazines begins, it becomes evident that the act of burning, by the very nature of fire, is giving birth to a new form of visual reality. Engulfed in the flames, each page becomes an odd, animated spectacle, a continuing flow and interaction of all the elements with each other. Reproductions, text, photographs, paper, ashes, smoke are dancing in the flames until they disappear and a new spectacle emerges on the steel grating—the stage of Savonarola, a performance now directed by the fire itself.

Artist Statement (abridged)
Changing socio-economic conditions in the mid-19th century ended the millennium-long servitude of artists to two powerful institutions: Clergy and Monarchy. In this new cultural environment artists became free to address the realities of the societies they lived in and were incentivized to experiment for the sake of advancing their practice. New ideas began to percolate giving rise to Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Art, Expressionism, Suprematism, Constructivism, etc. New art movements were actively supported by the new class of forward-thinking economic elite responding to the complexities and demands of their times. 

By the mid-20th century American art collectors, with their natural inclination toward the market economy, had shifted their activities from shaping the cultural values to supporting art as a market commodity and subject to market forces of supply and demand. Simultaneously, the art world’s move to fragmentation of styles, manners and methods, made it more difficult to evaluate the quality of the new commodity but offered the ideal framework to shape a new domain — The Art Market.

To create supply, the Art Market ecosystem had to mutate into a volume business in thrall to strict production cycles. To generate demand, The Art Market had to attract protagonists of the art world by breading brand names — brand artists, brand galleries and brand collectors as well as invent new forms of solidarity amongst the like-minded participants. To establish value of abundant supply of its new commodity, The Art Market called for artists to be represented by a Blue Chip (brand) galleries, their art to be collected by the 200 top (brand) collectors, reviewed by a handful of powerful (brand) art critics and auctioned at the highest price to be known as a top (brand) artist.

At the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, The Art Market emerged as the high-speed, low-risk powerful network of private museums, auction houses, galleries, collectors, art critics, curators, press, biennials and art fairs where some very talented but otherwise-minded artists who choose to escape the traditional art-world grind and operate outside of this hyper-commodified art-world treadmill are often doomed to oblivion.

About the Artist
Gregory Perkel, born in Ukraine in 1939, studied art in Moscow, moved to the United States in 1977, is an established American Conceptual artist working in a variety of media. His work critiques the value systems of market economy and those found in the art world. Over the years Perkel has developed his own unique structural language to interrogate diverse themes often working with source material and manipulating imagery to transform it into something totally new. In this way, he inhabits existing material, bending it to his will to form an original and sometimes unexpected narrative of his own (re)construction, creating new versions of a story every time. Among his conceptual installations are Consumed in Taplin Gallery, Arts Council of Princeton, N. J. (2010), Manuscripts of the Cardboard Culture in Hunterdon Museum of Art, N.J. (2007), Artist Against The State: Perestroika Revisited in Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York, N.Y. (2006). Gregory Perkel lives and works in New Jersey, USA.

© Excerpts and links may be used, provided full and clear credit is given to Gregory Perkel and Black & White Gallery/Project Space with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

All images © 2019 Gregory Perkel