Every day, at around three in the afternoon, Gianluca Lattuada appears at the Prado Museum With his pad of drawing sheets, he walks in with his pass, drinks an espresso with just sugar in the cafeteria, and heads into the main exhibition. There, after religiously "greeting" Caravaggio's David the winner of Goliath, he will spend the rest of the afternoon drawing, until the Prado closes at eight. He's been doing this since mid-July, and will continue for an undetermined amount of time until he finishes (or tires of) the art project he's embarked on.
Conversations, which is the name of the project, is part of what Lattuada catalogs as the "new baroque" and it occurred to him during one of his visits to the museum. “The Prado has a very large baroque collection, and looking at the paintings I began to think that they are contemporary. They were painted 400 years ago, but they look like they were made today”, explains the young artist, of Milan origin and 34 years old, in the same cafeteria where he drinks two, three or even four espressos every afternoon.
“The baroque has a lot of connection with the present. He was born after plague, with a large part of society in a situation of extreme poverty, and at a time of change; and it is an artistic trend that wants to express dynamism, darkness, chaos…”. Reflecting on the validity of the paintings by Velázquez, Caravaggio or Rubens, Lattuada decided to draw details of the museum's paintings on his pad and add contemporary elements to them. “It is as if there was no past and present; what was in 1600, is today and speaks to the now with the language of the baroque. It is a conversation of today with the painting and with the past”.
It all started with the Immaculate Conception of Francisco de Zurbarán. The Marian apparition of the Sevillian artist's oil on canvas becomes in Lattuada's print a statue like the ones that can be found in the center of many Italian squares, with a motorcycle at his feet. The image created at the beginning of the 17th century becomes a postcard of the 19th century. But not only is it current, but it is class conscious. “I was born in a town on the outskirts of Milan, where there is a lot of immigration and a very strong multicultural part. In my art I want to find the realities of those who live on the margins, those people who are in the village bar, sitting on plastic Coca-Cola chairs and dream of changing the world”.
Although he looks to the baroque, Lattuada draws from pop instantaneity, a bit of ingenuity and a taste for the representation of commercial brands and contemporary consumer products. In another sheet, he moves The Triumph of Bacchus by Cornelis de Vos, a representation of opulence and hedonism, to Las Vegas, decontextualizing the fat and greasy body of the god of wine and one of the tigers that push his chariot, and adding a poster light of the city of casinos.
In The Abduction of Proserpina by Rubens, he changes Hades for a suburban neighborhood, with its concrete, its bridges and its graffiti.
Normally, when an artist wants to carry out a work inside the Prado, they have to ask for permission, but only if they are going to need risk materials such as paint or large items such as an easel. Recently Eve Malherbe, David Cárdenas Lorenzo or Yi Ten Lai Fernández have done it. Others, such as Iona Roberts and Leon Scott-Engel, have received grants from the museum to develop projects within it. The unusual thing about Gianluca Lattuada lies in his spontaneity, his presence has a guerrilla component, closeness and craftsmanship. And if his work intends to strike up a conversation with the paintings that hang on the walls of the museum, there is another collateral synergy: he himself becomes one more piece to be observed in the eyes of visitors.
Today he is drawing from The Flagellation by Daniele Crespi. He does it standing up and without support, something habitual (he remembers that he could only sit on a bench the day he worked before Rubens's The Adoration of the Magi; on another occasion he had to draw all afternoon on some stairs). People who walk through the Prado arrive at a small room where Cleopatra by Guido Reni, Saint Peter liberated by an angel by Guercino... and then they come across a man drawing in front of a painting. The painting goes to the background.
A girl stops to observe what he is doing and, after looking around to make sure there are no security personnel in sight, she proceeds to do something prohibited in the Prado: record with her mobile. “A lot of people come over. Some talk to me, ask me to see what I do, give me their opinion…”, Lattuada tells me. "Others add me on Instagram and upload my photos there, I already talk regularly with people from all over the world." There are those who suddenly send you photos of themselves via AirDrop, the iPhone's wireless communication system, or those who send them to you later via networks alleging that they didn't want to talk to you so as not to bother you (a factor to take into account, as frivolous as it sounds, is that Gianluca is a very handsome and photogenic man: if we have learned anything from the history of art, it is that beauty attracts attention).
"There are museum workers with whom I already have enough confidence," says the artist. “Those who see me at the bar every day, or security personnel who tell me things from time to time. One of them has a painter father and always shows a lot of interest in the works. They are actually working, they can't start a conversation, but they see you, greet you and are very attentive. Once I lost my pencil sharpener and they found it for me.”
The person in charge of guarding the area today is not so nice. He has approached you to seriously warn you that the remains of the eraser cannot go on the floor. The worker tells me that they allow Lattuada to be there because he is not in front of a busy construction site. "I couldn't do that before. Las Meninas, or at the Caravaggio, because it makes it difficult to pass through,” he explains (after a while, when I walk through the museum, it will be difficult for me to see the famous painting by Velázquez because he will have a group of 20 Japanese tourists in front of him). “The bag, for example, shouldn't be there, but since it doesn't bother…”. Lattuada has left a small backpack on the ground in which he transports his material; After a while, the museum staff will kindly offer to place it in a place away from the public. After all, this improvised artist in the midst of art history arouses sympathy, even if it is because it represents a break from routine. After these remarks, the worker suddenly speaks in a lighter tone: "But he does very well, boy." And he keeps patrolling.
Not everyone looks kindly on what Lattuada is doing. Two old men look at him out of the corner of their eyes and comment among themselves, with a fuss of disapproval. Perhaps they see the very act of reproducing a painting in front of the greatest artists as a sign of arrogance and presumption. The Conversations project represents a turn to the copyist figure, an artist who visits the museum (prior permission) to copy works or parts of them. This practice, which the Prado welcomes and promotes, is part of the training of every artist and has been carried out by great artists such as Picasso or Gisbert.
“I don't want to be a copyist, the project doesn't have that meaning”, explains Lattuada. I remember the words of Kirby Ferguson, creator of the documentary Everything is a Remix: “Remixes are made by taking existing songs, chopping them up, transforming the chunks and recombining them, and then you have a new song. But that new song is obviously made up of old songs.” Ferguson theorizes that this process is not exclusive to remixing, but that copying, transforming, and combining are the basic elements of any creative process. What Lattuada does is not far from those singers who cover their favorite songs and upload them to YouTube.
Lattuada has a contagious way of seeing art, of observing it, feeling it and thinking about it, which flees from an elitist conception. “I believe that each one can give his own explanation of a work when he has it in front of him. I'm interested in what happens to you when you look at it. And I don't want an intellectual reading, but from the guts. What does it make you feel?”, she explains to me as we wander through the halls of the museum. After a month of coming daily she knows them like the back of her hand, she takes sudden turns to show me one piece or another, walking up and down the stairs with determination.
He stops in front of The Adoration of the Magi by Fray Juan Bautista Maíno and points out to me the vividness and realism of the clothes worn by the portrayed characters, which when observed closely are impressive because they approach photographic definition. “He looks like he was painted today, by computer!” he exclaims quietly. He is obsessed with the tension and strength of bodies, which he often replicates in his prints because they seem totally contemporary to him (he explains to me that there are three elements that predominate in Conversations: violence, sexuality and the sacred). The truth is that when observing Velázquez's La Fragua de Vulcano, I think that the workers in the painting, with those Greco-Roman bodies, would have many followers on Instagram.
Suddenly realizing that I haven't been hot for hours, I ask him how much is in the project Conversations of a Search for refuge from the unbearable heat What are we going through this summer? "Very much. I don't have air conditioning at home,” she replies with a laugh. "You caught me". Before Lattuada dives back into his foil, we go down to the cafeteria for a second coffee and, noticing the exorbitant prices, clearly focused on the tourist visitor, I ask him if he buys food here every day. "No way! Never. I usually make myself a sandwich and eat it at the door before I go in.” I can think of worse ways to spend a summer.