The painting cited in 89 Seconds at Alcázar 89 is one of most celebrated in the history of art. Produced by Diego Velázquez, painter to the Spanish court, around 1656, Las Meninas now hangs in the Prado in Madrid. By portraying himself in the act of painting a huge canvas, Velázquez became one of the first painters to address the theme of his own identity as artist. He expands the pictorial space by placing the king and queen – the subjects of the portrait he is painting but visible only as reflections in the mirror at the back of the room – in the position occupied by the person looking at the painting.
Eve Sussman animates the figures in the painting and rethinks the Spanish artist’s idea in her video. The viewer maintains the same position in front of the painting, which is, however, brought into the contemporary visual domain by the introduction of movement. We hear words spoken in a low voice while the figures move freely in the space before taking up the positions they occupy in the painting.
Sussman uses Las Meninas as a frozen image or a snapshot of a scene of everyday life that is reconstructed in the moving image and embedded in the development of a plot. The artist expands the space of the painting in the temporal sense, freeing the characters from the rigid and carefully studied composition, allowing them to move freely in space, and thus describing the possible situation preceding the moment captured in the painting. The figures now turn their backs on us, the dog rolls on the floor, and the king has a look into the mirror, which previously reflected him only in the distance. She thus brings the instant immortalized by the artist’s brush back to life as it was originally: an attempt to capture a scene in the everyday life of the royal family on canvas.
The artist also broadens her own modus operandi in this work, no longer confining herself to examining and recording everyday scenes with the camera – as in Aquarium (2006), for example – but going on to develop a choreography of movement.
Eve Sussman (1961) is one of the most successful contemporary photographers and video artists of the last few years. Solo shows of her work have recently been held at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. She has also taken part in group exhibitions at the Kunstforum and Kunsthalle in Vienna, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples as well as the IFC Center and the Whitney Biennial in New York. Eve Sussman lives and works in Brooklyn.