Fine Art: The artist who broke the dome of St Peter’s

Davide Quagliola, whose Laocoön show is at One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, has created a way of approaching Classical and Renaissance masterpieces with a geometric formula.

The Renaissance works that he inhabits are like inviolable landmarks: Las Meninas; Michelangelo’s St Peter’s dome. The surfaces of these distort in a Cubist-style discord, splintering the landmarks like an earthquake.

Quagliola’s first such work, the video sequence Strata Roma (2007), took as its starting point the interiors of the Baroque churches of Rome. He would then gain entrance to parts of the Vatican to film the ceiling frescoes. Set to music, these images would splinter like a cracked screen.

Quayola (his artist pseudonym) said that he felt, when growing up in Rome, a “strong weight of the cultural, historical significance [of religious art]. If you live in a place like this, you can be overwhelmed by this sort of significance; rather than looking, visually, from a detached point of view. Living in London, I came to have this feeling of detachment, looking at these places in a very different way. I became fascinated by these shapes, and the way they seemed to be icons of perfection.”

Quayola’s art is supposed to sharpen the appeal of the masterpieces. His lines have been submitted to an algorithm which gauges the form and colour of set-in-stone works such as Tiepolo’s Immaculate Conception, or the Greek classical Baroque sculpture of Laocöon and his Sons. Thus we get a mechanical Cubism, as opposed to one calculated by a Picasso. Perhaps the mind’s eye is stronger.

Following Quayola’s move to sculpture, with his adaptation of Michelangelo’s Prigioni (unfinished sculptures of slaves), we see Laocoön. The Trojan priest and his sons were killed by sea serpents sent by the goddess Athena, after he questioned the authenticity of the Trojan Horse by tapping it with his spear, as it was received into Troy.

Laocoön could be said to represent Quayola, who taps at the hollows of our cultural heritage, and asks: is this authentic? Is this as genuine as it claims to be?