Zeuxis and Parrhasius (Wrapped Waste)

Cotton dust sheet, rope, twine & debris
30 x 23 x 32 cms

Debris wrapped in the dust sheets and rope used at the opening of the ‘Negotiation of Purpose’ exhibition to cover the piece ‘Zeuxis and Parrhasius’, after which this piece is titled.

Every art exhibition has an ‘opening’ or ‘private view’: An event which publically announces that the exhibition is open. Often in smaller exhibitions put on by galleries that have next to no marketing budget, more people attend the opening event than over the rest of the period of the exhibition. This is a very frustrating situation for the artist, who realizes (through his or her own experience) that people do not attend art openings to spend quality time with the art but to ‘clock’ the art and chat to the other people. The idea of ‘who’ was at the opening becomes slightly more important than ‘what’ was at the opening.

For the opening of his exhibition ‘The Stuff Show’ at the South London Gallery 1998, as an extension of this thought and to generate a piece of thought-provoking performance art, the Artist made a controversial decision. As the visitors arrived at the opening they were confronted by the sight of eighteen pieces of art: free standing sculptures of various sizes, as well as large and small wall pieces, all elegantly covered ‘Christo style’ with beige linen dustsheets.
Christo is an artist who is famous for his wrapped sculptures which vary in scale and ambition from a recognizable chair form to more ambitions architectural projects such as wrapping the Reichstag in Germany.
Most visitors to the private view found the event confusing or even offensive: were they not trusted to evaluate and ‘see’ the art? Now they would have to find their way back to the gallery if they wished to view the actual art later on (the dustsheets were removed the next morning ready for the regular visitors).

For Open House, Sherborne, the artist has represented the dustsheets from the exhibition in a perspex vitrine. The name Zeuxis and Parrhasios comes from the famous ancient Greek anecdote as retold in the book ‘Stealing the Mona Lisa. What Art Stops Us From Seeing’, by psychoanalyst Darian Leader. This is the story of two artists who compete with each other to make a great painting. Zeuxis paints some grapes that are so lifelike that they attract some birds. Parrhasios then invites him to pull back the curtain covering his own masterwork, but when Zeuxis tries to do so, he finds that the curtain itself is the painting. Zeuxis and the birds are both deceived by an image and are both frustrated by the seeming deception, perhaps more than the skill and thought that went into the image.


  • The Myth of Zeuxis and Parrhasius - Rikke Hansen SHOW

    The Myth of Zeuxis and Parrhasius - Rikke Hansen

    Pliny’s “Natural History” tells us that the painter Zeuxis came to fame in ancient Greece in the 4th year of the 95th Olympiad, that is, in 397 B.C., only a few decades after ‘the gates of art had been thrown open by Apollodorus’. One day he challenged his colleague Parrhasius to a bet. Both were accomplished in the art of naturalistic representation, but now it was time to find the superior. As the artists set up their work in front of the theatre, Zeuxis offered to go first. He showed a painting of grapes so convincing that birds flew to the fruit and began to peck at it.

    Parrhasius subsequently presented a picture draped in a curtain. Certain of his victory, Zeuxis requested that the cloth should be removed and the image revealed. There was much surprise as it turned out that the painting was, in fact, nothing but the depiction of this very curtain. Zeuxis admitted defeat; where he had managed to fool the birds, Parrhasius had succeeded to deceive Zeuxis himself, an artist experienced in such matters of trickery and artifice.

    It was a double blow: not only were Zeuxis’ artistic abilities shown

    to be inferior, but his own judgment was aligned with that of an animal. Did he from that moment onwards see himself whenever he looked up at the birds? We do not know. Later in life he had another go. He painted a child carrying a bowl of grapes. Once again the birds flew down to feast. Zeuxis was furious. Had he depicted the child with the same sort of skill, he shouted, the birds would not have dared to approach the image. And Parrhasius? Legend has it that nature attempted to have its revenge on him. Three times did lightning strike his painting of Meleager, Heracles and Perseus, yet the picture remained intact.