First Sight


It is the image in the mind that binds us to our lost treasures, but it is the loss that shapes the image. — Colette


With First Sight, people are invited to present the object, artwork or experience that triggered the first aesthetic emotion they can remember. We are equally interested in what caused the aesthetic emotion as in the description of its context or nature.

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist


Artist Dawn Cerny works across the disciplines including drawing, photography, publication and time-based media. She received her MFA in Sculpture at the Milton Avery School of Art at Bard College.  
She lives and works in Seattle.

I have two aesthetic memories but I cannot remember which came first as my body was in the crib for both observations. The yellow gingham wallpaper and bars of my crib--- and they both did things to elicit the sensation of possibility when I was supposed to be resting.  

The gingham wallpaper in my nursery was a very tiny pattern—the squares so tiny and forever shifting I thought they were moving. Was the yellow getting darker or lighter from square to square within a basket like "over and under" pattern?  I would try to track each square – trying to understand if the yellow was getting darker or lighter as the hue shifted in all directions. Light yellow to white to yellow and on and on-- a never-ending story that kept slipping away from me.

Unlike the visual representation of tracking the movement of a color value over a grid—the bars of my crib was an obstruction rhythmically blocking and opening my sightline. Through the bars of the crib, I found I could shift the focus of my eye to shape the sensation of inside and outside. When focusing my eye on the bars of the crib the outside world would blur and suddenly I was in an interior space. When focusing my eye on the area outside the bars--- the larger room into sharp focus and the bars would disappear. The positive and the negative space could be manipulated--- and my eye could liberate me from my physical circumstances in the blink of an eye. My eye could transport me from a sensation of being in a landscape to being within a shelter without moving my body. I am safe inside or am I trapped? I am vulnerable outside or am I free? A yellow is moving to white and then back to yellow.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (A Corner of Baci). 1990. Dimension variable. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, LA

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (A Corner of Baci). 1990. Dimension variable. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, LA


Artist David Horvitz was born in 1982 in Los Angeles. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

I have a confrontation with art that lingers in the grey area of my memory. It wasn't until I was in college when I became interested in contemporary art, and making art. Though I was making photographs all through my childhood. But I have this memory from probably high school that sits in the back of my mind. My mother took me to MOCA in Los Angeles sometime in the 1990's. I can't remember what exhibition we went to see. But I do remember walking through the permanent collection and seeing a floor with a pile of candy wrapped in shiny wrappers. It must have been obviously a Felix Gonzales-Torres. I probably didn't think much of it. I probably walked through the entire museum not really thinking. I was a teenager from Los Angeles who had a punk band and didn't care about reading wall labels or contemplating contemporary art. Maybe I thought this pile of candy was dumb. Or maybe it intrigued me, and I thought it was subversive in some way. I don't remember. I only remember that I saw it and it stuck in my memory, and I've carried that memory with me today. I have no other memory of contemporary art from my childhood except for maybe Edward Kienholz's Back Seat Dodge '38 at LACMA. Why I am drawn and fascinated to this blur of a Felix Gonzales-Torres is because years later I would be drawn to his practice, and this past experience would somehow be validated in some manner. Of course I reacted to the pile of candy, because it was a great work of art, I just didn't know it yet.



Untitled, Jean Tyboud - date unknown

Untitled, Jean Tyboud - date unknown

This engraving was hanging in my grandparents’ house. It was kept in a square passageway that was arranged like a sitting room -carpets, armchairs, desk and lamps- giving way to my grandparents’ bedroom and where the phone was. This was my favorite room to play in: a bit secluded from the rooms where the action took place -the dining room, living room and of course the kitchen- though close enough to feel the warmth of the people around and not feel too isolated. 

I started observing this work very early on, it puzzled me….For many years, during these holidays spent beside my beloved grandmother Denise, I would interrogate this image, try to decipher it…I could not figure out what it represented and kept looking, searching, summer after summer…Was it a tree? A landscape? A limb? A flower? Did it even represent anything at all?

And then one day, I was about ten years old, I had my epiphany: acute joy and... embarrassment (that I could not figure it out earlier, now of course it seemed so clear). 

When my grandmother passed away, this is the only artwork I wanted to keep and it now sits in my bedroom. My first esthetic emotion is tied to this quest and in a way, this is what I am still doing: looking...searching...longing for epiphanies...


Cindy Sherman. Untitled #122. 1983.
Chromogenic color print. 35 1/4 X 21 1/4 inches
© Cindy Sherman. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.


Fabienne Audéoud lives and works in Paris after a dozen years in London and Maastricht. Her solo and collaborative work involves painting, video and music. 


« It was in a 1983 issue of the French Vogue magazine {Thanks ever so much}, but I can’t say for sure now... It’s the image that stayed with me though. 

I was 15.  Art in my family was how well you could reproduce snowy landscapes with farms... Contemporary art did not exist. My favorite music was Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. I had the feeling I understood well what it did to me. My school friends thought I was really untrendy not to dance on Laura Branigan loosing her self control. 
It was a great chance that some stuff could pass the censorship of the evangelical sect I grew up it.  Stuff my older brother got from the Swiss radio “Couleur 3”... {Thanks ever so much}
In our strict Brethren community, we knew about the power of music with text, the power of an image was something else. As for an angry woman in a fashion shoot...
I remember thinking something was going on this image that I could not quite define. It was accessible and addressing me. It was powerful, funny, seducing and, at the same time rebellious. I went to my local museum of Fine Art to check out more “images” but could not see anything like it. Old master paintings just didn’t do it for me.  
Ten years later, I saw some work by the Young British Artists in London. I was a musician/performer trying to find her way between contemporary music and performance... and I saw, in Time Out {Thanks ever so much} Sarah Lucas’ “Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab”. 
And that was it, that peculiar sensation again!
I applied to Goldsmiths and got “in”... {Thanks ever so much} »



Don McCullin, A Young Dead North Vietnamese Soldier with His Possessions. 1968, printed 2013.  Photograph - 28 x 42 cm Courtesy of Tate / National galleries of Scotland

Don McCullin, A Young Dead North Vietnamese Soldier with His Possessions. 1968, printed 2013.
Photograph - 28 x 42 cm
Courtesy of Tate / National galleries of Scotland

Based in Calcutta, Soham Gupta’s work constantly moves between the realm of documentary photography, art and the written word. He responds to themes of loneliness and isolation, of abuse and pain, of scarred pasts and uncertain futures, sexual tensions and existential dilemmas.

« I was a teenager when I was exposed to Sir Don McCullin’s oeuvre – there was an image of a dead soldier in Vietnam that always haunted me – photos of his loved ones and other possessions (including bullets), all scattered around him, as he lay there lifeless –it made war look so futile – the sheer futility of people killing each other, being guided by powerful men hungry for more power – nothing could convey this feeling better than this image.  

In the words of McCullin: ‘He deserved a voice. He couldn’t speak so I was going to do it for him. I shovelled his belongings together and photographed them. That’s the only contrived picture I’ve taken in war.’

That was the first time I realized the immense power and responsibility that a photographer is capable of having. That was the first time I wanted to pursue photography. To make a statement. To make my own statement. »

Piero della Francesca. The Baptism of Christ. c. 1448-50. Tempera on panel. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Piero della Francesca. The Baptism of Christ. c. 1448-50. Tempera on panel. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.


Artist Julien Gardair was born in France in 1976.
He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY


« Reaching London from the south of France in the early 1990's was an adventure. We were a loud group of freshmen on a art school field trip. It was our first time.

In a small  room of the National Gallery, a mid-size painting faces us. An angel hides behind a tree. It is the only figure to acknowledge our presence, and looks us right in the eye. In the center, stands a pensive man,  hands joined over heart. Upon one foot, another man, reaches above his head with a cup. Overhead flies a dove. In the far distance, men converse. Nearer, one bends. His shirt covers his face, exposing his underwear.

Since my early teens, I have been an art geek. On a homemade database, I created archives of art magazines collected at flea markets. Every school break was an opportunity to go to Paris and see all the art shows possible.

I remain in front of the painting long enough to notice that each facial hair has been painted one by one. The paint is thin and transparent. It covers as much as it reveals. My heart beats and my eyes bounce around. I am entranced. Everybody else left. I can not understand the nature of this emotion. The depicted scene doesn't recall any memory. I don't intimately relate to the Baptism of Christ. My knowledge of the Bible comes mostly from painting. I don't even remember knowing much about Piero della Francesca then.

I never felt anything like this. It is physical. Soon, tears come to my eyes. »

Francis Bacon. Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge). 1961. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague.

Francis Bacon. Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge). 1961. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague.


Artist Alina Bliumis was born in Minsk, Belarus.
She lives and works in New York, NY.



« It was 1988, I was 16, a 10th grader in a boarding Art School named after Ahremchik in Minsk, capital of The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Our Art School was considered one of the best, with countless hours of drawing, painting and art history classes. At this time in our school, like in the rest of in the USSR, modern art was unwelcome and considered 'decadent bourgeois formalism’ (it was labeled this way by Stalin in 1930).

One week in 1988 the whole class was on school-organized trip to Moscow and We did the usual: the Red Square, Kremlin Museum, Tretyakov Gallery. 

Central House of Artist came next: the whole class entered the exhibition space, we were not aware and our teachers weren't either that we were about to see the first Francis Bacon exhibition in the Soviet Union. Of course, none of us including our art teacher knew the artist's name and at this point it didn’t matter. All I remember was a huge aesthetic impact, an almost physical experience like when you want to “eat with your eyes” and “photocopy everything with your brain”. It was not about liking, not liking, judging, reflecting or analyzing. I remember vividly how I stepped onto the street after the show, took a deep breath, looked around  and thought  “I am changed”.  It was not for better of worth, it was just “changed”.

This show was for me a sign of the post-Communist era, Perestroika happened in 1989 and then everything around me changed. »

Pierre Soulages. Peinture 102 x 165 cm, 17 juillet 2013. 2013 Courtesy Dominique Lévy and Galerie Perrotin.

Pierre Soulages. Peinture 102 x 165 cm, 17 juillet 2013. 2013
Courtesy Dominique Lévy and Galerie Perrotin.



Negarra A. Kudumu is an independent scholar. Her intellectual interests reside at the intersections of contemporary art, curation and critical theory with a specific interest in the contemporary visual culture of the African continent, Iran, South Asia, and their respective diasporas.


« Thanks to my mother, art has always been a part of my life. As a child, we regularly visited the Art Institute of Chicago. We also attended local festivals on Chicago's south side where artists unknown to the "art world" exhibited and sold their work. At home, my mother had these beautiful black and white photographs of her parents from the 1940s at various Chicago jazz clubs. My grandfather was always in a suit and tie and my grandmother in a striking hat or donning a flower in her hair. They were the picture of elegance and style.

The year 2010 was a major turning point for me as a consumer of fine art, specifically painting: I saw the exhibition of Pierre Soulages' work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and was overcome. Contained in these works of Soulages is the entire universe. There is topography, there is light, there is texture. All of this Soulages achieves with one color: black. Where traditionally, in the words of Quignard, "to blacken is to annihilate visible form", Soulages does the exact opposite and creates new forms and silhouettes with black. In the artist's own words,

"J'aime l'autorité du noir, sa gravité, son évidence, sa radicalité . Son puissant pouvoir de contraste donne un présence intense à toutes les couleurs et lorsqu'il illumine les plus obscures, il leur confère une grandeur sombre. Le noir a des possibiltés insoupçonnées et, attentif à ce que j'ignore, je vais à leur rencontre."

"I like the authority of black, it's severity, it's obviousness, it's radicalism. It's powerful ability of contrast provides an intense presence to all colors and when it illuminates the darkest colors, it gives them a somber grandeur. Black has unimagined possibilities and, attentive to that which I do not know, I am going to find them."

This quote brings together perfectly the aesthetic grandeur and conceptual heft of Soulages work. Every time I reread it I am transported back to February 2010, but also reinvigorated for Soulages words for me are like a mandate. This underpinning coupled with the visual effects of Soulages' black on canvas left an indelible imprint on my psyche. In both my personal life and professional practice, I have ended up doing what is considered impossible given my background. I view my life as a space of unimagined possibilities and in stark contrast to society's antiquated, prescribed notions of how women like myself should conduct themselves, I intend to uncover every possibility. »

James Turrell. Meeting. 1986. Courtesy of Moma/PS1, New York.

James Turrell. Meeting. 1986.
Courtesy of Moma/PS1, New York.



Artist Mary Temple was born in Arizona.
She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY



« Many years ago a friend and I entered a room in an art museum. As we sat on a bench, the door closed behind us. The bench abutted a wall--the other walls had benches too, so we would have been facing people, if we hadn't been alone. I noticed that the sound in the small room was strange, somehow larger and more expansive than one would expect in such a close space. The strangest thing, though, was the color of the ceiling. It completely absorbed us. As a painter I couldn't imagine how the artist had achieved the exquisite effect. This was truly the most sublime hue I'd ever seen, I was enthralled and felt suddenly calm. We were perfectly quiet contemplating this apparition of color. It seemed like several minutes passed in this heightened sensory state, but it was probably only a few seconds. These few moments and what followed comprise the single most influential art experience of my life. 

What happened next, was that suddenly a tiny dot appeared on the ceiling near the wall. The dot elongated and quickly morphed into the shape of a plane. In a microsecond the intense blue ceiling revealed itself to be sky. The tiny plane was just taking off from La Guardia airport. We could hear it now. It was sunset. We were facing east, sitting in a James Turrell skyspace.  "Meeting" at PS1 in Queens irrevocably changed the way I perceive the world. »

Ilya Repin. Ivan The Terrible And His Son Ivan On November 16. 1581.  Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Ilya Repin. Ivan The Terrible And His Son Ivan On November 16. 1581.
Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.



Irena Popiashvili is Dean of Visual Arts & Design School of the Free University and runs an art space –Popiashvili Gvaberidze Window Project– in Tbilisi, Georgia. 


« I think my aesthetic experience, the first one I remember, started in school - in Soviet history textbook at the end of the USSR History book were bad reproductions of paintings. I used to look at those images, really bad reproductions of Russian 19th century painting, Repin's Ivan the Terribly killing his son etc. but I was so bored in that class that I really studied every detail of those paintings. Later, at home I used to look at Dresden Museum collection reproductions -. My aesthetic experiences are connected to the disappointment i experienced when faced with the originals - not particularly this Russian paintings but any western artwork - I studied and fell in love with them through the bad reproductions, so when I first saw Mantegna's dead christ at Pinoteca di Brera I was super disappointed and had to go back to love the original the way I loved the bad Soviet copy. »

Paul Sérusier. Cylindre d'or, 1910. Huile sur toile. Courtesy of Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.

Paul Sérusier. Cylindre d'or, 1910. Huile sur toile.
Courtesy of Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.



Artist Guillaume Leingre was born in 1971.
He lives and works in Paris.


« This is a painting by Paul Sérusier, a French painter from the 19th century, entitled Golden Cylinder (Cylindre d’Or). I saw it for the first time in 1986 or 1987 in Brittany, France, at the municipal museum where the painting is kept. I remember an empty museum with hardwood floors and seemingly inanimate guards. The building is divided into two parts: the Museum of Brittany, which is dedicated to popular regional arts and traditions, and the Museum of Fine Arts that features a collection of works, including a masterpiece by George de La Tour showing a woman (if I remember correctly) lit by a candle. This painting is a good example of La Tour's famous mastery of chiaroscuro. In an adjacent corridor, among rather ordinary works in my view, a small canvas entitled Golden Cylinder is displayed. It depicts a “cylinder” that resembles a cork, floating above what seems to be a seashore in a predominantly blue night sky. The cylinder is hanging in the air.                                       

This painting doesn't have an actual subject. I have always thought of it as the product of the imagination of a painter who cherished fantasy or symbolic literature. I don't know if this is true. I remember precisely having discovered it a few days before or after attending a David Lynch film festival. Blue Velvet had a profound impact on me. The scene with Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) and his oxygen mask and Kyle MacLachlan as a voyeur was a shock. To me, this painting is also contemporaneous with the passage of Halley's Comet, whose luminous trail crossed the sky before my eyes as I was driving.

What is this cylinder? »


Translated from French by Claire Houdon

Mario D'Souza. Comfort from all sides, 2013.  Courtesy of the artist.

Mario D'Souza. Comfort from all sides, 2013.
Courtesy of the artist.




Artist Mario D'souza was born in Bangalore in 1973. He lives and works between Paris and Menetou Salon.


« I was 6 years and playing on the street with some friends. I was a small boy and people did like me because I was a bit fat and my mom dressed me quite well!

During this play time, I discovered a garden full of trees, fruits and plants filled with colored flowers. It was like walking into a private part of a well organized villa. It was in bangalore, a town also called the garden city of india. In the end of this garden, I did see a glass door, so I went close to it and peeped in: to my astonishment I discovered lots of sculptures, all most like people standing with different positions. I remember a statue looking like a well dressed catholic priest.

Coming back home I felt that that was what I am going to make when I will be big. It was not clear, but I am sure the seed was sown in my mind!

Later, I start my Art School and during my walks to museums and galleries, I meet the artist who had the studio in the garden which I discovered.

He was an artist who made modes and statues for churches and temples.

I did tell him my story and he had a big smile like a rainbow up side down. »