Mark Lamster | Essays

Urban Camouflage


The Magritte Museum opens next week on the Place Royale, in Brussels. For the past several months, as it was prepared for its unveiling, the building was cloaked by this brilliant trompe-l'oeil construction wall, very much in the spirit of the artist. (The house in the middle is Magritte's home and studio, a few miles away on rue Esseghem.) I hope this painting will be on display inside, to double the pleasure:


It would seem there is a certain proclivity among Belgian-based artists for trompe l'oeil effects on their architecture. In the early seventeenth century, Peter Paul Rubens actually painted a series of faked sculptures around the courtyard of his house.


But that was just the beginning of his visual gamesmanship. On the garden facade of his studio, a building he designed himself, he painted a fake loggia, and then to heighten the apparent "realism" of this scene, painted a canvas that appeared to be hanging out to dry in front of it. (If you look carefully, you can see this composition on the far right of the second story in the blurry image above.) Architectural camouflage, of course, is most often used in wartime, to ward off enemy aircraft. I can't help but think of Jon Stewart's running accusation that Dick Cheney had the Vice President's residence obscured on Google Earth. It would be nice to develop some more inventive applications of these types of effects. Could they be used to test-drive projects in development? What if, one day, New York was dummied up to look like Paris? Or flipped around so the West Side was on the East Side? The mind boggles. Time for coffee.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

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