Devorah Sperber’s popular artwork After The Last Supper (2005) has not been on display since 2012 and will be leaving the walls of the museum again very soon. Learn a little more about the work, its preparation, and some of the works currently around this one, in the galleries now through March 28.
Why is this piece only displayed for a few months every few years? Great question! After The Last Supper is composed of textiles, thread spools, which means this work is highly photosensitive. Simply put, the work can only be on display for short bursts of time to help preserve its color and luminosity.
Crystal Bridges’ Associate Registrar of Collections Miquel Geller explains, “ordinarily our parameter for most textiles is to display them for no more than three months out of a year, but because [After The Last Supper] is a more complicated artwork to install, we’ve maximized displaying it for a longer period of time, and then it will rest for a longer period of time, so we are still protecting this artwork.” Geller explains the extreme care the Collections department considers to make sure they are being mindful of the work’s photosensitive nature.
Preparing to display After The Last Supper consists of unboxing all 20,736 spools of thread and hanging them on a wall that is specifically tilted at a 45-degree angle. It certainly takes a village—everyone from designers to the Prep team had their hand in making this work possible to display in the galleries. The teams needed to build a wall to precise measurements to make sure the illusion of this artwork could be achieved. The installation of After The Last Supper involves multiple well-labeled crates, strands of aluminum ball chain, unique hanging apparatuses, careful planning, and days of prep work.
After The Last Supper is a large reconstruction of Leonardo da Vinci’s 1498 mural, housed in the dining hall of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Like Leonardo, Sperber is interested in human perception, representation, and the science of perspective, all of which are underscored by the inversion of this famous image, which rights itself when viewed through the lens positioned in front of the work. Using everyday materials associated with handicraft instead of the original painting’s “high art” media, the artist has created a reinterpretation for our time of one of the most famous images in the history of art.
Located in the Early American Art Gallery, this work can also be seen alongside another of Sperber’s works, After The Mona Lisa 1, as well as the material-based works of other female artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Sonya Clark, and others. Miriam Schapiro’s work A Mayan Garden, for example, pays homage to quilting, appliqué, embroidery, and other forms traditionally practiced by women in the home to privilege these creative practices over painting.
This free, focus exhibition will be leaving the walls of the museum after March 28, 2021. Grab a friend, a partner, or your entire family and make a plan to view this optical masterpiece and corresponding works during the month of March.
Written by Kat de Sonnaville, communications intern, Crystal Bridges.