Cartoons for Joseph Selleny, 2014

Wall drawing created through pouncing with cheesecloth full of ground charcoal, 1100 × 300 cm, created with Saskia Doherty; off-set printed artist’s book to take away; type C photograph, 130 × 86.6cm, photography: Christian Capurro

Exh.: Allegory of the Cave Painting, curated by Mihnea Mircan, Extra City, Antwerp, 20 September — 7 December 2014



Cartoons for Joseph Selleny makes use of a Renaissance drawing technique. In preparing frescoes, large-scale preparatory drawings (known as “cartoons”) were perforated and then beaten with cheesecloth full of charcoal dust (also known as “pouncing”) to make the dotted outline of an image on to a wall that would then be painted as a fresco.

Nicholson’s project brings together two narratives: the narratives of the work’s own making, using these Renaissance techniques; and the narratives surrounding the remarkable visit to Sydney Harbour by an Austrian frigate, the Novara, in 1858, a ship built in Venice’s Arsenale (amidst the revolution of 1848, during which it was taken by Manin and his fellow revolutionaries at the very outset of the anti-imperial uprising), and sponsored by the Austrian Archduke Maximilian (later puppet Emperor of Mexico), patron of the Novara as well as patron and friend of the Novara’s official artist, Joseph Selleny.

In Nicholson’s work these two narratives — around the work’s own processes and evolution, and around the Novara and its stay on Sydney Harbour — pivot around the four versions of The Execution of Maximilian painted by the French artist Edouard Manet between 1867 and 1869. Nicholson has produced preparatory drawings for these four versions of Manet’s painting after the fact. These charcoal cartoons are perforated and pounced, partly un-making the drawings, and producing a vast abstracted wall drawing on to the wall of Extra City.


A take-away artist’s book consists of nine imaginary letters written by the artist. It weaves together the evolution of the project itself, and the history of the Novara, specifically around the Aboriginal objects which were taken from Sydney during Her stay and which Nicholson viewed in the Vienna Ethnographic Museum at the outset of the project.

The first iteration of this project was exhibited as a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, 22 May — 6 August 2014.
A reworked fragment form Nicholson’s artist’s book was also included in the Allegory of the Cave Painting reader, also including contributions by HHaseeb Ahmed, Ignacio Chapela, Justin Clemens, Georges Didi-Huberman, Jonathan Dronsfield, Christopher Fynsk, Adam Staley Groves, Sean Gurd, Adam Jasper, Susanne Kriemann, Landings (Vivian Ziherl en Natasha Ginwala), Brenda Machosky, Alexander Nagel, Rosalind Nashashibi, Jack Pettigrew, Raphaël Pirenne, Susan Schuppli, Lucy Steeds, Jonas Tinius, Marina Vishmidt, Christopher Witmore and Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll, is published by Mousse Publishing. It is co-edited by Mihnea Mircan and Vincent van Gerven Oei.



Also included in the exhibition
Nina Beier, Jérôme Blumberg, Constantin Brâncuşi, Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan, Pavel Büchler, Jeremiah Day, Tacita Dean, Florian Dombois, Harun Farocki, Geert Goiris, Dan Graham, Ilana Halperin, Gary Hill, William Hogarth, Hans van Houwelingen, Ann Veronica Jannsens, Toril Johannessen, Sven Johne, Adrià Julià, Susanne Kriemann, Alon Levin, Frans Masereel, Michèle Matyn, Dóra Maurer, Fabio Mauri, Vincent Meessen, Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Gustav Metzger, Ciprian Mureşan, Rosalind Nashashibi, Navid Nuur, Miklós Onucsán, Susan Schuppli, Erin Shirreff, Paul Sietsema, Jonas Staal, Bernard Voïta, Phillip Warnell, Paola Yacoub, Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll



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