Kota Ezawa reenvisions missing masterpieces

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Kota Ezawa reenvisions missing masterpieces
Kota Ezawa (Japanese-German, b. 1969), “Empty Frame,” 2015. Duratrans transparency and LED light box, 24 1/2 × 33 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, and Haines Gallery, San Francisco.

ATHENS, GA.- Over 30 years ago, thieves disguised as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied up the night guards and stole paintings, including ones by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer. Despite this act being one of the largest art heists in history, the case remains cold and the art is still missing.

The traveling exhibition “Kota Ezawa: The Crime of Art” is on display at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia from July 17 until December 5, 2021. The exhibition includes 13 works of art that pay homage to the objects stolen during the Gardner Museum heist in 1990.

The California-based artist Kota Ezawa uses light boxes, color-blocked graphics and video animation to re-create the missing masterpieces. Although his re-creations are simplified, they remain instantly recognizable, which illustrates the hold that certain images have over viewers. The museum heist has resurfaced in pop culture through the Netflix series “This Is a Robbery,” which explains the evidence found to date.

Ezawa uses paintings by famous artists to create images that are both original and not original simultaneously. Much of his work provides commentary on how modern media “steals” art and ideas by blurring the lines between what is private property and what is public knowledge. As a result, crime is a recurring theme.

Dr. Nelda Damiano, the museum’s Pierre Daura Curator of European Art and the in-house curator for this exhibition, said, “It is always interesting to see a dialogue between past and present and to have a contemporary artist like Kota Ezawa take on the idea of appropriation and originality. I was especially intrigued by the artist’s statement about this project: ‘I feel compelled to produce an exhibition dealing with “stolen artworks” because my own process could be regarded as a form of image theft. One could say I’m hoping to steal these images back and give them a new life.’”

This exhibition was organized by SITE Santa Fe with the Mead Art Museum.

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