The Looking Glass

1981, 28:49 min, color, sound

Shot in London, France, New York and Spain, The Looking Glass is a multilayered essay whose visual complexity parallels its subject: the meaning of reflections, illusions and mirrors in Western art, culture and life. In his analysis of the rich iconography of the mirror in painting, including Van Eyck's Arnolfini wedding portrait, Holbein's Ambassadors, and Velasquez's Las Meninas, Downey reflects on the psychological tension in the relation of the artist, the subjects of the painting, and the viewer beyond. Exploring perceptions of pictorial space, he uses computer graphics to diagram art historian Leo Steinberg's analysis of perspectival systems in Las Meninas, a painting Steinberg refers to as "a mirror of consciousness" in which the "viewer partakes of an infinity that is psychological." In a subjective illustration of the mirror as a reflection of the subconscious, Downey recalls his own experience of viewing Las Meninas as a young man in Madrid, when he immersed himself in the "Baroque space of the picture, in a total art experience... similar to orgasm." The Looking Glass is the first part of Downey's The Thinking Eye series.

Camera: Kirk Von Heflin, Elaine Summers. Editors: Juan Downey, Paul Dougherty, Dorene Hyman, Kirk Von Heflin, John Trayna, Bob Zieniewicz. Audio: Bob Schott. Texts: Leo Steinberg, Eunice Lipton, Michel Foucault.


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