Over the years, Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958) has left many artists obsessed, from Chris Marker, who dedicated an entire segment of his Sans Soleil (1983) to the thriller, to Douglas Gordon, whose video Feature Film (1999) reuses Bernard Herrmann’s score. Now, Lynn Hershman Leeson will address Vertigo with a new project called VertiGhost at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, with works at both the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum. The project includes a film about Portrait of Carlotta Valdes, the painting that figures prominently in the Hitchcock work, as well as a new work with a component that can be accessed via the internet.
In Vertigo, Scottie, a private detective, follows a woman named Madeleine into the Legion of Honor, where he finds her sitting in front of Portrait of Carlotta Valdes. Madeleine has clearly modeled herself after the painting’s sitter, a woman who Madeleine later says has possessed her. Suddenly the painting consumes Scottie and Madeleine’s lives. With VertiGhost, Hershman Leeson addresses the fake painting from the Hitchcock film and ties it to Amedeo Modigliani’s painting Pierre-Edouard Baranowski (ca. 1918), a work at the de Young that has for years been plagued with questions about its authenticity.
A video produced as part of the project will feature interviews between Hershman Leeson, who is based in San Francisco, and an art historian, a conservator, and a psychiatrist. “What interested me was the context of Vertigo, which was shot [at the Legion of Honor],” Hershman Leeson, who was profiled by this magazine earlier this year, said by email. “I was interested also in untold stories of paintings, like the painting under painting, as an ‘undercover’ idea. . . . The 15-minute video is really about the ‘ghosts of history’ that refuse to rest until their stories are told.”
For the project, Hershman Leeson has also produced an installation featuring a blurred version of the Carlotta Valdes portrait, along with a faux version of Madeleine and a bouquet of flowers, that will appear in the Legion of Honor. A hidden GoPro camera in the eyes of the portrait will be triggered by a motion sensor in the flowers, and a 3-D feed will be transmitted to a small Pepper’s Ghost box near the Modigliani painting in the de Young Museum. The feed will also be available online on a website dedicated to the work.