Thomas Hirschhorn’s The Purple Line at MAXXI

The Purple Line Thomas Hirschhorn at MAXXI
Thomas Hirschhorn, Pixel-Collage n°86, MAXXI collection, ongoing acquisition also thanks to the contribution of Roberto and Nadia Toscano © by SIAE 2021.

A provocative take on world crises and censorship along The Purple Line

Thomas Hirschhorn’s The Purple Line is an astonishing exhibition at the MAXXI, Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, from October 20 until March 6, 2022, curated by Hou Hanru and Luigia Lonardelli. Hirschhorn is a world-renowned artist, and with his Pixel-Collage series of 121 collage pieces created between 2015 and 2017, he poses controversial questions on violence and its censorship. The MAXXI has the privilege to host the collection almost in its entirety, 118 pieces of his captivating pixelated works are all exhibited along a purple wall – The Purple Line.

This long wall of collages envisioned by the artist himself guides you along a personal and explosive journey. As you pass by each piece, you are confronted with the limits of your own perception and urged out of your comfort zone. No wonder the wall is purple; the colour, being on the far end of the visible spectrum is symbolic of such an experience. A colour that attracts, but pushes back, too, leaving you with the need to look, but also not want to do so. This is the effect the various collages have on the viewer who walks this seemingly never-ending path. The collages feature photographic images of war, death, in their full gruesomeness, juxtaposed with cutouts of luxurious brands’ advertisements. This contrast is heightened by the fact that Hirschhorn decides to pixelate the visually pleasing, but not the effects of warfare. While the natural reaction would be to look away, to ignore the bits which create terror, the exposition calls for these to be observed, calls for reality to be seen with your own eyes. 

The Purple Line Thomas Hirschhorn at MAXXI
© Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Fondazione MAXXI

By censoring what is deemed luxurious and beautiful and keeping the visceral open to be observed, he creates tension and opens up a new universe – a novel response to war crises. The increasing amount of pixellated images emerging in the media in the past years, to him, were an invitation for his mind to abstract reality. This exhibition is a tool for him to confront the reality that surrounds him, to reach the world: not just the good while avoiding the bad. Pixelation and censorship impede empathy. By censuring wounded bodies on television, we render them invisible to the viewer, and the invisible is quickly forgotten. Instead of apathy inducing pixels, he confronts the truth of war and disaster.

Everyone will live their own Purple Line experience as they walk along the path. As Hirschhorn explains, the sizes add an extra layer of meaning; its size is often comprehensible and we see things with great clarity, and when it comes to bigger works, we see so close to the details, to the singular pixels, that we may well see other things within the work. But as the artist emphasised, the dimension does not give it more or less value, it is exactly the opposite that happens. There is a strong sense of dimensionlessness that is expressed by the varied sizing.

If you want to experience a change in your view and a shift in conscience, Thomas Hirschhorn’s The Purple Line is a must-visit. Visit the exhibition to overthrow your limits and open up a new way of perceiving disaster. Experience the dialogue that Hirschhorn creates, the tension between what is good and what is ugly, between what one is allowed to see and is not.


Till 6 March 2022

MAXXI – Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
Via Guido Reni, 4a

11 am – 7 pm

entry fee €12

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