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Critical Terms for Art History

Second Edition

Edited by Robert S. Nelson


and Richard Shiff

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS


CHICAGO AND LONDON

ElevenAppropriation

RobertS. Ne/son
Two routes lead to a cemetery in a Middle American city in Texas,
where my family has lived for many years. One meanders past
rows of older bungalows, now being gentrified; another, busier
and faster, leads down a commercial avenue of newer shops and
offices.The cemetery itself is a large, spaciouslawn, an ordinary
place, never to be celebratedor mocked like Forest Lawn in Los
Angeles, but to be denied or forgotten by the automobile traffic
that hurries by, or to be rememberedby those bearing memories
of loved ones buried within. This cemetery,like most in America,
eschewsthe extravagant displays of memorials that jostle each
other and the visitor walking down the monument corridors of
European cemeteries.It is a quieter, more bucolic place of death.
But it is also a place of business,a part of a corporation that sells
funerals, flowers, tombstones, and cemetery plots. What is spatial, social,and always commercial is also an apparatusfor sym-

exhit
scho

bolically defining and controlling the place of burial. Coded and


coatedin as many different ways as human societiescan imagine,
gravesare rememberedby means of the signs given them by immediate relativesand later makers of meaning.
My father'sgrave is no exception.Near a large live oak tree is

are fr
to tht
enou
chur<
wher

a sirnple grave market a small marble plaque on the ground with


his name, dates of birth and death, and a religious symbol. Recently I revisited the grave by the quieter of the two routes, absorbed in the psychologicalpreparationsrequired to traverse the
cemetery'sboundariesand its liminal gate.About to passthrough,

Vene
sharp
repla

I was rudely roused from my memories, startled, and ultimately


offended by the sculpture that had been placed atop the gateway
since my last visit. Before me stood small versions of those four
magnificent gilded bronze horses that have long cantered above
the main entrance to the church of San Marco in Venice (Plate
rr.r). These horses and their various sitings are the focus of my
exploration of the connection between art and personhood or
identity, whether individual, corporate, civic, or national.
Dispatched on tour some vears ago, what have come to be
known as the horses of San Marco then received the standard

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subject of
exhibition catalog.More recently they have been the
bronze statues
scholarlymonographs (e.g.,Jacoffa9%)' Thus the
I shall return
history'
art
of
a.e fully .nrhrln"J within the canon
present' it is
to their intricate histories at the end of my essay'At
from the
enoughto report that in r983 the horseswere removed
church,
the
inside
.hrr.."ht fu.ud" for preservation and installed
light of the
where they are presently seen not in the former soft
by that
Venetian iugoort, bttt ,potlighted, as illustrated here'
Their
,hurp, guriri lighting common to museums and boutiques'
*. d.tll, uninspired copies, wholly devoid of the
..plu.J-".,,,
the Texas veratua of the historic original. But in comparison'
large dogs and
sionsare much less satisfactory,being the size of
in appearmadeof some strange material, suspiciouslysynthetic
PowerMarco'
di
San
ance,and being erected far from thePiazza
entrance
iessto alter this symbolic manipulation of the cemetery's
as
recourse
only
my
grave,
and all within, including my father's
is
art'
Byzantine
an academic,an art historian, and a student of
interventions
what passesfor the pen today, my keyboard, and my
the term
consider
will
I
in u pru."r, krln*n as "appropriation'"
acrossseveralissuesof contemporary art and art history'
hardly be
Etymologically, the word "appropriation" could
meaning
ad'
Latin
the
simoler or more innocent, deriving from

Pl aterr.t
The FourH orsesof S an
Marco,Veni ce.R ornan'
A.r).
possrblzd
y l d centur'r'
Edl z Ardo'
Aftera posl card,
V eneza.

162

RobertS. Nelson
" to," withthe notion of "rendering to," and proprius, "own or personal,"yielding in combination, appropriare, "to make one's own." Setting aside the governmental sense,as in appropriating or legislatingfunds for an organization,"to
appropriate" today means to take something for one'sown use and the adjective
"appropriate" means annexed or attached,belonging to oneself, private, and
suitableor proper. 'Appropriate" also has more sinister connotations,implying
an improper taking of something and even abduction or theft. Taken positively

secc
pea

or pejoratively,appropriation is not passive,objective,or disinterested,but active, subjective,and motivated.


Its application to art and art history is relatively recent and pertains to the
artwork's adoption of preexisting elements.Such actionshave been lesssuccessfully describedas "borrowings," as if what is taken is ever repaid, or as "influ-

ph1

ences,"that elusive agency,by which someone or something infects, informs,


provokes,or guides the production or receptionof the artwork. Michel Foucault
has criticized the conceptof influence,in particular, as belonging to a constellation of terms, which, if poorly understood theoretically,neverthelessfunction
to affirm and maintain the continuity and integrity of history, tradition, and discourse. With typical syntactical complexity, but conceptualbrilliance, he describesinfluence as a notion "which provides a support-of too magical a kind
to be very amenable to analysis-for the facts of transmission and communication; which refers to an apparently causalprocess(but with neither rigorous
delimitation nor theoreticaldefinition) the phenomena of resemblanceor repetition; which links, at a distanceand through time-as if through the mediation
of a medium of propagation-such defined unities as individual, oeuares,notions, or theories" (Foucault t-972, zt).ln regard to art history itself, Michael
Baxandall (t985, S8_gz) also argued that influence occludesactor and agency.
In contrast,the term "appropriation" locatesboth in the person of the maker or
receiver.The difference between the two is the same as the grammatical distinction between the passiveand active voices.
Theoretically,the term has been lately informed by the semioticsof Roland
Barthes, especiallyhis analysis of what he calls "tryth." Myth, as he wrote in
his book Mythologies of t957, is a type of speech,a definition that consciously
plays on the word's Greek origin, but also unintentionally revealsthe linguistic
basis and bias of French structuralism and poststructuralism. Myth is speech,
for what Barthes is exploring is communication rather than an object or idea.He
introducesthe classicsemiotic categoriesof the signified,the signifier, and their
cornbination,known as the sign (for which see the entry elsewherein this volurne). Next he extendsthe conceptof the sign by defining myth as a secondorder of signification. In myth, the first sign, the associationof signifier and
signified,is transformed into the signifier of a new signified and a cornponentof
the secondsign. What once was complete and meaningful is taken over by the

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secondsystem and made to stand for a new notion. Such a processcan be repeatedindefinitely. Barthes illustrates his theory with an analysis of the cover
of a French magazine, which, like the horses at my father's cemetery, is described,not illustrated. Therefore before he even begins,Barthes makes an unacknowledgedsemiotic shift, the always complex translation of images into
words (seechapter 4 on "word and image"). The same strategy is employed in
another book, Cnmero Lucidq, about a much discussedbut never illustrated
photograph of his mother.
What Barthes calls "myth" I should like to rename "appropriation," thereby
illustrating and enacting the theory by appropriating his myth. In so doing, I
shift the meaning of his semiotic construction towards the personalso as to emphasizepersonal agency,not merely the play of signification. I also employ a
word already used in English for similar proceduresand one that is thus easier
to reposition than "myth" with its firmer grounding in ordinary language.Appropriation is the processat work in the placementof the horses of San Marco
atop a cemetery gate.
Once the four horses,standing before the city's major church and the doge's
palacechapel,had been the signifier of Venice'sSreatness.In their shrunken version, the horses serve new masters/or rather the horses as sign of Venice,Art,

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or the Old World have become the signifier of a new signified. An ordinary
cemetery is thereby redefinedfor reasonsthat I can only surmise. Was the intention to aggrandizethe entrance through the application of art, even in the
guise of poor copies,or merely to add more generalizedsigns of higher status,
like the lions that provided a certain cachetto the entrancesof newly built cultural institutions in America, e.g., the New York Public Library or the Art Institute of Chicago? C)r was the basicnotion of the horse itself the key value for
the local culture? In Texas,the horse is still a vital sign of personal prestige,as
it had been from antiquity and the Middle Ages (equestrianstatues,knights in
armor) until the Industrial Revolution and its replacementby the horselesscarriage. The later application of equine names (e.g., Mustang) to automobiles
servesto perpetuatethe past and to disguisetechnologicalinnovation.
In introducing appropriation, I have deliberately grounded the discussion in
the details of my life, becausethe word, "properly" or etymologically, concerns
the personal,giving the processconceptualpower, but also semiotic instability.
Like a radioactiveisotope,appropriation or myth breaksdown over time, either
fading away or mutating into a new myth. Becauseappropriations,like jokes,
are contextualand historical, they do not travel well, being suppressedor altered
by new contexts and histories. Thus Ford, the company, not the car or the dead
industrialist, spendsmillions to sustain the freshnessand potency of its appropriations and to make them a part of collectivediscourse.
Appropriation, like myth, as Barthes explains,is a distortion, not a negation

IOJ

o4

Robert
S. Nelson
of the prior semiotic assemblage.When successful,it maintains but shifts the
former connotations to create the new sign and accornplishesall this covertly,
making the processappear ordinary or natural. The potency of the cemetery's
horses, deriving from their previous associations,is now used to reposition,

mln

market, and advertisethe cemetery,but all this is done rather quietly through
the addition of reproductions at the entrance. Myth or appropriation is funda-

con
mal

mental to modern advertising and to the abstractingand expropriating strategies of capitalism itsell which Marx attempted to describein Capital. For Hal
Foster(tg89, the relation is concrete,not metaphorical,appropriationbeing the
equivalent in the cultural sphere of capitalistexpropriation of labor in the economic sphere.However, today these transformations are played out not in the

has

relatively sirnpleeconomicstructures of nineteenth-century cottagecapitalism,


but among multinational industrial corporations, that economic landscape
which Marxists wishfully like to term "late capitalism" but might, following recent developments,better be calledpost-Marxism. By whatever name, demand
for products today is encouraged,if not created,by global advertising agencies,
the true semiotic magicians of our world. For this contemporary economic order, the early work of fean Baudrillard, a theoretician of symbolic capital, or
David Harvey, a Marxist student of time and space,is helpful.
The signs that myth can appropriate,Barthes observed,are in some measure
incomplete and therefore appropriatable.If complete or fully charged,the sign
cannot be shifted-at least not covertly or without consequences.A case in
point would be the many usesand abusesof the American flag in art and popular culture. There appropriation in excessof societalnorms is continually subjected to proscription. When an appropriation does succeed,it works silently,
breaching the body's defenseslike a foreign organism and insinuating itself
within, as if it were natural and wholly benign. Probably the horses at what I
persist in calling my father's cemetery are ignored by most passersby.Accustomed to the appearanceof animals at the thresholds of important structures,
motorists easily acceptthe irnposition of animals atop a cemetery'sgate and the
proprietors' attempt to enhancethe statusof what they doubtlessregard as their
cemetery. Presumably the horses' long history of symbolic appropriation is
Iittle known to casualviewers driving by.
To defeat the working of myth or appropriation, one focuses,as I am doing,
not on the end product of signification but on any of its prior stages,thereby
thwarting the serniotic slide into myth and revealing the occludedmotivating
forces.The process,of course,results in further acts of appropriation,but ones
that are personal,not impersonal.At this level of abstraction,however, the notion of appropriation easily extendsto the very act of interpretation itself and to
the individual'sengagementwith anything internal or external. Thus appropriation can be perceptionitself, the responseto things seen,or even memory, the

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mind's reconstitution of the past. Taken this far, however, the act of appropriation becomes a theoretical Pac-Man about to gobble up all other theoretical
terms and methods and thus to be renderedanalytically useless.
For our purposes,"appropriation" is better confined to the visual arts and to
contemporary modes of bringing the external into the work of art or simply
making art art. Lately, "appropriation," together with another term, "allegory,"
has been appliedto certain trends in contemporary art, especiallythat art practice,concentratedin New York as usual, by which modernism is taken over, partially drained of its semiotic plenitude, and manipulated into postmodern constructions.The first to chart this developmentand its origins in earlier practices
of collageand montage was Benjamin H. D. Buchloh; other critics of this movement, as it subsequently emerged in the r98os, include Hal Foster, Douglas
Crimp, and Craig Owens.
In contrast to the critics, many of the prime movers of what has come to
be called "appropriation art" are female, and gender critiques are frequent.
Artists, such as BarbaraKruger or Sherrie Levine, work, not as Duchamp or the
dadaistswith found objectsof modern industrial life, but with appropriatedimages. Sherrie Levine appropriates various icons of modernism-the photographsof Walker Evans or Edward Weston-and thereby comments upon and
countersmodernist strategies,but she doesnot always escapethe danger of any
appropriation-the appropriated overwhelming the appropriator. Previously
employedas a magazinelayout editor, BarbaraKruger works in photomontage,
the dominant mode of modern advertising and propaganda.Instead of joining
imagesand captionsinto a seamless,natural, and powerful combination of mutual appropriations,Kruger's words and pictures repel not only each other, Iike
oppositepoles of a magnet, but also the viewer, for whom contemplating the
word-image constructionscan be like listening to two out-of-tune instruments.
Kruger herself has used other metaphors, saying in an interview with Anders
Stephanson(tSBl) that she was "trying to interrupt the stunned silencesof the
imagewith the uncouth impertinence and uncool embarrassmentsof language
[and] dishevelingthe garment or at least splitting its seamsin the hopes of exposingthe underpinnings of what is seenand spoken."
A typical example of Kruger's work might be the profile image of a marble
headof a woman to which Kruger has appendedthe caption, "Your gazehits the
sideof my face," as if the representedobject could answer back to the objectifying viewer (see also chapter 22 on "gaze"). Like Duchamp, certain art of the
t97os, or most advertising, Kruger's visual/verbal constructions addressthe
viewer. To facilitate that confrontation, she captions her creations with the first
and secondpersonsthat are common to advertising, rather than the abstracting
and distancing third person that is standard for an informational illustration.
And she works with photographic,not painted,images,becausethe photograph

r65

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RobertS. Nelson
is still assumed,in spite of decadesof manipulation, to have a direct, unmediated
connection with the thing represented.The resulting montages of reconstruction and reappropriationquestion multiple categories:representation,especially
the act of portraying the female, the objectifying propertiesof the gaze,and the
viewer and the context of viewing. The work is a novel, original, and therefore
marketable form of media reconstruction,but many aspectshave been seenbefore. The hortative, rhetorical effectsremind one of early advertising or propaganda,e.g.,that army recruiting poster where Uncle Sam points and commands
"l want you." The relevant semiotic tradition stretchesback at least to antiquity
and includes similarly inscribed vesselsfor ordinary use, epitaphs on gravestones,or icons and medieval manuscripts (Nelson a98q. These verbal/visual
constructssucceedbecauseviewers make themselvespart of the communicative
structures and appropriate,if only for a moment, one of the dialogic positions
so skillfully constructedfor them.
Although it is always unwise for historians to predict the future, the appro-

mor
mal
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but
whi
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priative work of BarbaraKruger or Sherrie Levine may only be an intermediary


stagein a larger phenomenon, which perhapswill come to be known as "postphotography," a topic of recent exhibitions and books. What this new world
brings is the possibility of the total manipulation of the photographic image.

eml
i nt
and
aca

The traditional photograph, as William J. Mitchell describes,yields an analog


image, or what appearsto be a continuous variation in spaceand tone of the image correspondingto the light rays striking the photographic film and then the
photograph paper. In contrast, the new processis digital and more overtly discontinuous, being produced by a digitally encodedgrid of cells, called pixels,

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hib
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stored in a computer. Becauseeach pixel can be changed electronically, the image can, in theory, be manipulated indefinitely, and the technique is becoming
increasingly common, especiallyin journalism. Traditional photomontage was
a type of collage,but with digital technology,the marks of suture disappear.The
artistic consequencesof appropriate strategiesof postmodern photography are
not yet clear,but "computer collage" has already arrived technically.Now the
rate of semiotic slippagefor the photograph can potentially accelerateand blur
yet further the traditional distinction between painting and photography and
also that between text and image. In the computer, both words and images become digital, and word processingprograms are directedby visual "icons."

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Photography and photomontagehavecome to play crucial rolesin another series of contemporary critiques of museums, exhibition installations,and the inevitable appropriation involved in collectingof any sort. Installation art has become an important category of contemporary art, and some artists, like Hans

atel

Haacke,haveusedit to disrupt the elisionsbetweenthe two series,art-museumaudienceand commodity-corporation-consumer, which can take place when
corporations support the arts. Less strident and polemical and thus probably

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more effective are the quiet, lyrical photographs that Louise Lawler has been
making of art in many contexts.Her images and extendedcaptionsare included
in the recent volume of Douglas Crimp's essays,many of which are relevant to
the present concerns.In the book, Lawler's photographs stand by themselves,
but also indirectly support Crimp's criticism and draw attention to the ways in
which art functions in the lived context of the office, gallery, and home. Thus
framed print and photocopy machine, or painting and TV set, are shown shar-

nds
Lity
veual
ive
)ns

ing the same spaceand forming one gesamtLlerk,whether kunst or not.


While contemporary art and criticism have been quick to exploit the latest
French theory and Barthes'snotion of myth is often evoked, other genres of
Frenchscholarshiphave yet to be incorporatedinto these discussions.The soci-

rorry
rld

tique ot' the Judgement of Taste,it is clear that Kant is a major concern,but the
empiricaldata assembledabout the role that objectsfrom kitsch to high art play
in the homes of various social classesanticipate many concernsof present art
and art history. A socialbasisin class,income, and educationis shown for taste,

al-

a categorythat Bourdieu extendsto issuesdear to art history. Buying art, or any


of its variations,acquiring reproductions,joining museums, contributing to exhibitions,serving on boardsof directors,is a means for accumulating"symbolic

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ologistPierre Bourdieu, for example,contributesto the understandingof the actual practice of collecting and identity formation in his book, first published in
ry79 and later translatedas Distinction j984). From its subtitle, A Sociql Cri-

capital" and therefore gaining stature in a social group, a not unexpectedconclusion.But wielding "symbolic power" can also achievethe sameends.Artists,
art historians, and critics may lack the means to purchase actual works of art,
but some have the power to transform ordinary objects into art and vice versa.
In both cases,the quality or significanceof the object transfers to the person,
completing the appropriative loop.
A clear and obvious consequenceof such social sciencemethods has been a
critique of the proceduresby which the artifacts of other societiesare acquired
by " our" culture, variously defined, but usually referring to contemporary Europe or America (seealso "primitive," chapter 15 of this volume). Sally Price's
book,ironically titled Primitioe Art in Ciailized Places,nicely critiques and parodies the cultural asymmetries involved in the discovery, redefinition, and appropriation of tribal artifacts by the modern art world. Like Lawler, Price createscollages,in this caseprimarily verbal, not visual, in order to concentratenot
on the objectsor their makers, but upon their remakers or appropriators.Similar analysesof artifact, discourse,and colonialism now constitute an important
subsectionof contemporary anthropology. In terms of art history, that discoursehas been most evident in reactionsto the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition "Primitiaism" in Twentieth-Century Art: At'finity ot' the Tribql and
Modern (tg\+). JamesClifford considersit and other general issuesof cultural

to/

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Robert
S. Nelson
representationin his collected essays(r98S). Contemporary investigations of
cultural representation are also productively theorized in the emerging discourse of multiculturalism and postcolonialism.From that perspective,Homi
Bhabha (tssd strikes to the core of the matter when he argues that what is
neededis "the rearticulation of the 'sign' in which cultural identities may be inscribed"-in other words, a work of creative reappropriationof cultural repre-

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A f,

sentationsof all types.


Strictly speaking,the full force of multiculturalism has yet to be felt in the
of the act of reprebroader areasof art history, but the manifold consequences
i
s
s ent at ion,pa rti c u l a rl y th e s e n s eth a t to represent to appropri ate,i s prompting a flurry of studies in many fields. For example, the implications of representing a person wearing no clothes-what used to be calleda nude-are being

are
ere
sen
the
Yet

examined, especiallyfor the uses and abusesof pictures of unclothed women.


The inquiry is shifting to the significanceof male nakednessas well (Adler and
Pointon a9%). Analyses of still-life painting or the depiction of household objects also have the potential to reveal larger attitudes toward material posses-

that

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sions and their representation.Here the obvious targets might be seventeenthcentury Holland and what Simon Schamacalledits "embarrasstnentof riches"
in a book of that title or the consumer culture of our world. Norman Bryson and
others have written perceptivelyon the earlier periods.What is the significance,
for example, of the possessionof flowers, either depicted in those gorgeous

tior
pai

Dutch paintings or displayedat the entranceof a museum ? For our world, what
does it mean to bring into the home the myriad objects of consumer culture?
And how does
How are consumers' lives reordered through their possessions?
the design of such objects,the subject of designhistory, facilitate that appropriation? Or how does pop art, the representationof mass consumption for eiite

mo
49 7

audiences,ostensibly challengebut ultimately reaffirm consumer culture?


B ut per h a p sth e m o s t a c ti v ei n v e s ti g a ti onsi nto the rel ati onof representati on
to appropriation are now taking place in the area of landscapepainting. And
within that field, English landscapesof the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
have been the focus of the most theoretically challenging work, whose goal, as
W. I T Mitchell announcesso succinctly in an introduction to a recentvolume,
is "to change 'landscape'from a noun to a verb." As a consequenceof the new
interpretations, that which the average museum visitor might have once regarded as pleasantif sometimes boring renditions of country life has become
something different. What has emergedunder the inspiration of the social his" after the title
tory of E. P. Thompson is aptly called"the dark side of landscape
of John Barrell's book of r98o. In eighteenth-century landscapes,Barrell explains, the rural poor were literally expectedto be shown in the shadeor background in contrast to the well-lit and foregrounded depictions of the wealthy.
While all landscapeshave a range of light and shadow,such a pictorial conven-

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tion is prescriptive,not naturalistic,and the projection of a desiredsocialorder.


A few years later, Ann Bermingham's book further deconstructedthe notion
that landscapewas natural sign.
More recently, ElizabethHelsinger has also consideredthe appropriation of
rural scenesin English art and literature during the first half of the nineteenth
century but shifts the inquiry to the collectiveand to the sensethat landscapes
are sites of competing and conflicting appropriations.Landscape,when considered "essentially English," is a means of establishingthat very Englishnessor
senseofnation. Thus landscapedepictsnot only ideal socialrelations,at least for
the wealthy, but also an imagined community for the middle and upper classes.
Yet defining the nation through such images of nature, taken as natural images,
alsoexcludes,intentionally or unintentionally, people and spacesnot shown. In
Europeor America, landscapepainting has been one among many strategiesfor
constitutingthe modern nation-stateand symbolically appropriatingthe land of
that state, for it is the basic requirement of a nation that it have a territory,
whether real or imagined. That possessionmust be reaffirmed in every generation, and important agents in that processare visual signs, whether landscape
painting, photography, film, maps, or highway markers. As usual, the attempt
is to make what is artificial and ephemeral,the governmental possessionof any
territory, appearnatural and permanent.
However, the symbolic appropriation of the land begins neither with the
modern nation-state nor the new art history, at least in its British version. In
ry73, Oleg Grabar devoted a chapter of his book The Formotion of Islamic Art
to this matter, showing how that emergent religion demonstratedits symbolic,
aswell as its physical, possessionof the lands of the former Byzantine and Persianempiresthrough the monuments it erected.In the casesadduced-for example,the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem-Muslim patrons and builders borrowed preexisting symbolic languagesand adaptedthem for new messages,a
cleardemonstration of the operationsof myth or appropriation. Some monlrments,like the Dome of the Rock, continue to enjoy symbolic centrality to this
day;others fade and disappear,like old myths and dead metaphors everywhere.
An important factor here is the continued accessibilityof the symbolic object.
Today,with the many techniquesof mass reproduction available,it is the object
that is brought to its audiences;in the past,the oppositeprevailed.Then the goal
was to establishone'sidentity and possessionin placeswhere people gathered,
suchas crossroads,city squares,and prominent buildings, or at sites to which
peopletraveled,especiallyplacesof pilgrimage like the Jerusalemof the Dome
of the Rock or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
What made the horsesof San Marco important was their prominent position
in severalhistorical contexts.Conversely,the intrinsic beauty,monetary value,
and technicalaccomplishmentof these four life-size gilt bronze statlles enno-

169

Robert
S. Nelson
bled, embellished, and enhanced the structures that supported them and the
communities which interacted with them. Their early history is by no means
clear,but they are thought to have been made during the secondor third century A.D. Brought ro Constantinople in the fifth century from the island of
Chios and installed in the hippodrome or the city's main public arena,they stood
above the starting gates from which the teams of horses and charioteerswould
spring forth. This Byzantine appropriation doubtlessshifted their meaning. Although their prior context is totally unknown, horse groups, often in the form
of a quadriga (i.e.,chariot, driver, and four horses),were erectedin similar positions on Roman buildings and archesto commemorate specifichistorical triumphs. Whatever their connotation on Chios, the races and imperial ceremonies that took place at the hippodrome would have given the horses a more
generalizedsenseof victory or triumph.
Capableof holding as many as one hundred thousand people and directly
connectedwith the palace,the hippodrome was the principal placein which the
Byzantine emperor was presented to the people. Consequently it was well
outfitted with symbols of governmental authority, and the horseswere not the
only statuesthat had been collectedthere, as Sarah Bassetthas recounted.Better documentedbut no longer surviving is the colossalbronze figure of HerakIes, made by the famous fourth-century B.c. Greek sculptor Lysippus and
erectedon the acropolisof Tarentum. After the Romans conqueredTarentum in
2ogB.c., the statue was installed at the symbolic center of Rome, the Capitol,
and when the capital itself was moved to the newly founded Constantinople,
Herakles went along. Later joined by the four horses,this and other statuesbecame one of the legitimating possessionsof the New Rome'shippodrome, modeled after Old Rome'scircus maximus.
The statuesremained in the hippodrome until rzo4, when the Fourth Crusade,with active Venetian support, was diverted and attackednot Muslims of
the Holy Land but fellow Christians in Consrantinople.Dazzled by the cityt
riches, the crusaderslooted churches and palacesand melted down the hippodrome'sbronze statues,turning them into coins and exchanging "what is great
for what is small," in the words of a Byzantine historian. The four horseswere
savedfor a different appropriation.Loadedonto a Venetian ship, they were dispatchedto Venice and later installed at the entranceto the city's most important
church. At San Marco, the horsesonce more becamepart of a major public space
next to a palace,that of the doge; now they pranced atop another Satewayand
combined with other tokens of victory to celebrateVenice's triumph. Thus
Venice appropriated Constantinople's appropriation. At each stage, partial
knowledge of the previous sign survived the appropriation, exemplifying the
semiotic distortion, not total negation, that characterizesBarthes's"myth" and
my "appropriation."

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According to Michael Jacoff (r99), the horses acquired yet another


significanceat San Marco. There they joined reliefs of Christ and the four evangelists, which were once also on the west facade,to become the quadriga of
Christ. By the fourteenth century, the horses of the hippodrome had becomea
symbol of Venice, so that an opponent could threaten the republic'sindependenceby proposing to bridle the "unreined horses" of San Marco. In the Renaissance,humanists appropriated the horses yet again, appreciatingthem as
great works of ancient art and often assigning them with little reason to the
aforernentionedLysippus. Once a genuine bronze by Lysippus had been available for the taking in Constantinople;now by another appropriation, works of
Lysippus were made in Venice through the "symbolic power" of a newly valorized aestheticdiscourse.In the early rnodern period, as the physical and social
spacesaround the horseswere transforrnedby the enlargementof the piazzaof
San Marco and the creation of the piazzettaof the doge'spalace,the performative contexts and hence ritual meanings of the horses also changed. Concurrently their placementon the facadeof the church came to be criticized as inappropriate to their aesthetic dignity, and in his Capriccio, Canaletto depicted
them on handsome classicalplinths in front of the church (see Corboz r98z).
Yet the horses never lost their associationwith Venice itself, and when
Napoleon had completedhis conquestof the Venetian republic in the late eighteenth century, he took away what Venice had taken from Constantinople and
Constantinoplefrorn Chios. He brought the horses to his newly imperial capit al and p a ra d e dth e m b e fo re th e c i ti zens of P ari s i n qgS .l ni ti al l y the horses
were installed at entrancesto the courtyard of the palaceof the Tuilleries; Iater
they were set atop the newly built Arc du Carrousel to honor Napoleon'svictories, like the quadrigaeof Roman triumphal arches.But empires and the spoils
of victory were and were not the same in the nineteenth century. When
Napoleon fell frorn power, the horses were sent back to Venice but not to the
Venetian republic. It was emperor Francis I of Austria who now controlled the
city, and he presidedover their ceremonialreinstallation at San Marco. In Paris,
the horseshad been made to pull Napoleon'svictory chariot; now in solemn processionfrom wharf to church, it was they who were pulled by troops of the empire that prevailed for another century.
In Venice, the horses returned to what had becornean aristocratic theme
park, the first Euro Disney, and to a city that still lives off its heritage, studying,
analyzing, copying, packaging,displaying its monuments for legions of tourists
from the grand tour to the packagetour and thereby effecting new appropriations with every year. Where Napoleon failed, experts have succeeded,and the
horses have been removed to the expert's care, enshrined under the museum
spotlighting, and marketed by that ubiquitous appropriation of our world, the
postcard(seePlate rr.r). The horses have become full citizens of the world of

171

RobertS. Nelson
art, in which the semiotic plenitude they might have once enjoyed as a political
symbol is never possibleand in which meanings fragment and mutate in ways
that might seem arbitrary and capriciousbut are willed and motivated like all
appropriations. This museum without walls owns nothing and everything.
Ownership passesto all, and accessincreaseswith every technologicalinnovation, digital imaging and computer networks being only the latest manifestations of a phenomenon that beganwith the invention of printing. And the techniques of mass reproduction placethe horses anywhere, even in obscureTexas
cemeteries, and give historians, who are committed to understanding past
meanings and their transformations, a bit of semiotic vertigo.
However, appropriation is yet more complicated.As Edward Said has long
understood,in every cultural appropriation there are those who act and those
who are acted upon, and for those whose memories and cultural identities are
manipulated by aesthetic,academic,economic, or political appropriations,the
consequencescan be disquieting or painful, like the personal example with
which I began.To study appropriation is to question these semiotic shifts and to
take responsibility for the ones that art history itself creates.Compared to traexample, "influence//-ssneidgling approditional terms of art history-for
priation shifts the inquiry toward the active agents of signification in society
and illumines historical context. It cuts away the privileged autonomy of the art
object or at leastpermits the construction of that autonomy to be studied.At the
sametime, the notion of appropriation allows the art object'ssocialutility in the
past or the presentto be reaffirmed openly, not covertly.Art was important, and
it still is. The term "appropriation" encouragesus to ask why and how'
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