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Madrid’s Prado Museum is currently hosting an innovative exhibition titled Reversos (On the Reverse), which offers an unprecedented glimpse into the usually concealed aspects of notable artworks. This exhibition, curated by Miguel Angel Blanco, aims to alter conventional perspectives, guiding visitors on an exploratory journey into the hidden realms of art. Blanco emphasizes that this exhibition transcends the mere act of rotating paintings on their axes.
Spanning two rooms adorned with black walls, the exhibition showcases approximately 100 pieces, including contributions from 29 international museums and collections, such as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Blanco articulates a vision of global collaboration, seeking to extend beyond the confines of the Prado’s own collection.
The genesis of this project was inspired by Diego Velazquez’s 17th-century magnum opus Las Meninas, a pivotal piece in the Prado’s collection. Intriguingly, the exhibition features a life-size replica of the rear of this painting, forming the focal point of the display. The exhibit, which commenced last month and will continue until March, also includes original works, some displayed with their painted faces toward the wall, while others, like Martin van Meytens’ Kneeling Nun from the 18th century, are viewable from both sides.
The reverse of these paintings often reveals fascinating details: labels, stamps and seals that trace the provenance and historical journey of the artwork, including past ownerships, display locations and restoration efforts. One segment of the exhibit highlights the diverse materials used as supports for paintings over centuries, such as copper, porcelain and even ivory. A notable feature of the exhibition is the original stretcher frame of Pablo Picasso’s 1937 iconic painting Guernica. Discovered in a warehouse of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the frame bears a label from one of the 30 cities where the painting was exhibited. Blanco describes it as “the frame with the most nail holes in history,” containing a black stain which he poetically refers to as “the unknown brushstroke of Guernica.” This unique exhibition not only invites a reexamination of the artistic process but also illuminates the rich histories and untold stories embedded in the physicality of these revered artworks.