November 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Neo Rauch’s “At the Well,” featuring new small- and large-format paintings, opens today at David Zwirner Gallery.
Rauch was born in Leipzig in 1960; his parents died in a train accident when he was four weeks old. Growing up in East Germany, he wasn’t exposed to much of the Western avant-garde, and though he’s denied that reunification influenced his development, I think it’s no coincidence that his show comes now, on the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
His aesthetic couches the East with the West, and they make for strange bedfellows: the work is full of doom, but it’s never quite nefarious. If anything, a disquieting calm obtains. “My pictures supposedly have a vital quality, like an animal, a living thing,” Rauch told the Art Newspaper in 2011. “There is no need to understand, only to feel that this creature is, to the greatest possible degree, at peace with itself.”
Whether we’re at peace with it is another question. Looking at Rauch’s paintings, you feel as if you’ve gotten lost in the corridors of a vast, oppressive Soviet bloc building and opened the wrong door: you’ve stumbled upon the neon guts, the recondite boiler room, of social realism. Everyone is hard at work—but what are they working on? Again and again, his paintings find stone-faced men and women in dutiful pursuit of some arcane greater good. They plod through slanted, parti-colored worlds of clock towers and quaint rooftops, abrading the land without doing violence to it. This is labor as ritual, or ritual as labor. As a statement by the gallery says,
His paintings are characterized by a unique combination of realism and surrealist abstraction. In many of his compositions, human figures engaged in indeterminable tasks work against backdrops of mundane architecture, industrial settings, or bizarre and often barren landscapes.
Rauch said in a 2009 interview,
What finally condenses on the canvas is highly subtle and in need of protection. Sometimes I am surprised by the result of my art. There is a figure, which appears again and again: it might be a revenant or a reincarnation. He finds his way on to my canvas subconsciously. Only when I look at the finished work I realize: here he is again. It is true, his is the face of a decade and that decade is the fifties.
“At the Well” is up through December 20. Read More »
October 31, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
The artist Eric Fischl has curated “Disturbing Innocence,” a group show on display at the FLAG Art Foundation through January 31, 2015. More than fifty artists, historical and contemporary, are represented in the exhibition, which features work with a focus on surrogates—mannequins, dolls, robots, toys—and “presents a subversive and escapist world at odds with the values and pretensions of polite society.”
Fischl says in a preface to the catalogue:
Curiously, “toy,” “robot,” “mannequin,” and “doll” are all nouns with negative connotations embedded in their definitions, including phrases like “something of little value,” “non-important,” “subservient,” “a non-entity,” “without original thought,” “controlled by others,” “a pretty girl of little intelligence,” and “disposable.” The very thought of this goes against the profound experiential impact these supposedly trivial attachments have had on our imaginations and within our emotional development as children. It flies in the face of what we know from our own essential experience with our toys. The difference between children playing with their toys and adult artists using toys and other surrogates for their art, the way that male and female artists use these surrogates differently, are the crux of this exhibition.
October 30, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
October 28, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Yesterday’s journey into the macabre (via Thackeray) was so lousy with skulls and black cats and seasonal pageantry that I thought, Hell, let’s do it again.
The public domain is teeming with hoary, scary fare for Halloween. Time was, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting something spooky.
I present to you, then, a few morbid selections from George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne: Quickened with Metrical Illustrations, both Moral and Divine; and disposed into Lotteries, that Instruction and Good Counsel, may be furthered by an Honest and Pleasant Recreation, from 1635. Wither wrote verses to accompany these allegorical plates, which were originally by Crispin van Passe from earlier in the seventeenth century. The allegories depicted here aren’t always easy to parse, but I think we can safely assume that they instruct humankind in the evasion of sin. If you sin, after all, your hand may wind up mounted to a stick, or you may become like the caged cat, beset by the mice you once terrorized. Read More »
October 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
When William Makepeace Thackeray died, near the end of 1863, he left behind a formidable library in a mansion he’d only recently designed, erected, and occupied. A few months later, his home was dismantled and his books were put to auction. On the flyleaves and margins, their new owners discovered a wealth of Thackeray’s sketches, some in pencil and others in pen and ink.
Thackeray’s talents as an artist were no secret—he’d contributed illustrations to many of his own novels, including Vanity Fair—but few were aware of the extent of his doodling habit. More than ten years later, in 1875, the art collector Joseph Grego published Thackerayana, an assemblage of more than six hundred of Thackeray’s drawings with extracts of the books in which he’d drawn them. (Grego, perhaps fearing the consequences of his blatant copyright infringement, presented the collection anonymously.)
What surprises most about the sketches in Thackerayana is their range—Thackeray was an adept caricaturist, but these drawings find him equally at home in more high-flown styles. As his source material moved him, he could do landscapes and portraiture, the irreverent and the solemn, the macabre, the surreal, the juvenile. It’s these last three qualities, in particular, that caught my eye; with Halloween around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to present a portfolio of Thackeray at his most imaginatively unhinged. He had a thing for combat, for instance, and for men with hideously bulbous noses. Here, then, are a series of Thackerayana’s more unsettling entries. Read More »
October 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Let’s talk about temptation, because it’s Saint Hilarion’s feast day. A fourth-century anchorite who followed the ascetic precedent of Anthony the Great, Hilarion lived for most of his life in a desert in Syria Palaestina, where … not much happened, presumably. He refused to take food before sunset and, perhaps as a result, faced a slew of hallucinations temptations. These he avoided, being saintly. When at last he rejoined civilization after many decades in the wilderness, he didn’t much care for society—so many people!—so he retreated into austerity again, in Dalmatia and then in Cyprus, where he died.
I’m simplifying things a bit.
The man wrought some miracles, for instance, but those are not my concern.
Much of what we know about Hilarion—the name is from the Greek hilaros, meaning cheerful, not super funny, though neither seems to describe the Hilarion in question—comes from a chronicle written by Saint Jerome in 390 A.D., a strange, captivating, and fittingly arid read, particularly in regards to Hilarion’s temptations: Read More »