Photo Essays

Art for the Goth in You

A screenshot of the entrance of the Andrea Rosen Gallery via Google Street view

Anyone who attended high school in the Western world during the last few decades knows what Goth culture is. The one-room contemporary Flemish show in Andrea Rosen’s Gallery2 space, Flemish Masters, That’s Life, instantly transported me back to high school and my run-ins with the weirdly morose tribe of Siouxsie and the Banshees fans, who loved all things black, medieval and Renaissance — I wasn’t yet sophisticated enough to realize that they weren’t the same thing.

Curated by Filiep Libeert, this cluttered — but beautifully arranged — exhibition brings together eight artists born in Flanders, a region of modern-day Belgium little known to the outside world. In the history of art, the label “Flemish” unusually conjures up a number of 15th to 17th century Old Masters, including Jan Van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, and my personal favorite, Jacob Jordeans. These artists have little stylistically in common but during their day they were at the forefront of visual experimentation.

What the contemporary Flemish artists in Flemish Masters share with older artists seems to be very little, but what they share with Goth culture is profound, including a fascination with mortality, an interest in updating older styles, and a love of pretty decay and cursive script.

Walking into the gallery you are immediately confronted by Kris Martin’s large mirrored piece covered with a backward “The End” written across like we are standing behind the mirror — reality is on the other side, get it.

Jan Van Oost’s mirrored coffin, “Untitled” (1987-88), is the earliest dated piece on display and seems like a joke on the notion that we are all the walking dead, or maybe minimalism is dead, or wait, maybe it’s a prototype for Marilyn Manson’s (remember him?) dressing room mirror. Then there’s Peter Buggenhout’s “The Blind Leading the Blind” (2010) which looks like a remake of mid-century sculpture but this time with polyurethane, epoxy, foam and other artificial materials, all covered with dust (cue Siouxsie and the Banshees’s “Cities in Dust“).

The stand out on display is Wim Delvoye’s “Double Heli Crossed Crucifix” (2009), which collides faith and science into a distorted mindfuck of sculptural fabulosity. If it ain’t baroque don’t fix it.

If I sound terse about this jewel box of a show it’s only because of the extreme stylization of the work on view in Flemish Masters. Life, like art, suffers a little when it’s overwhelmed by style. Then again, Goth is dead (pun intended).

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The entrance to Flemish Masters, That’s Life felt solemn and dark, like an art gallery catering to Goths.

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Kris Martin’s large “The End” (2006) mirror piece with vinyl lettering dominates the room, while to the right Martin’s much smaller “Death in the Afternoon” (2002) cuckoo clock hangs in what the press release says was “the last work to be placed in the show, the installation of the clock became the morose punctuation of the exhibition.” Yeah, like we’d ever know that if the press release never told us. Below the “punctuation” is Thierry de Cordier’s “Landschappeling/Paysageux” (1995) made of wood, rubber, iron, plaster, hair, earth and glass.

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A detail of Wim Delvoye’s wonderfully trippy “Double Helix Crossed Crucifix” (2009) made of patinated bronze and measuring 91 3/8″ (232 cm) high.

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Jan Van Oost’s “Untitled” (1987-88) mirrored coffin on the left, and David Claerbout’s “T’Engeltje” (1997) on the right. I personally think Claerbout’s piece would’ve worked better as an animated gif, since the image only shifted ever so slightly in a repetitive motion. Quick, someone call Paddy Johnson.

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Clockwise from left, Peter Buggenhout’s “The Blind Leading the Blind” (2010), Wim Delvoye’s “Double Helix Crossed Crucifix” (2009), Matthieu Ronsse’s “Cockfighter” (2010), and Kris Martin’s “I Am Still Alive” (2006).

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Flemish Masters, That’s Life is curated by Filiep Libeert and continues until March 5, 2011 at the Andrea Rosen Gallery (525 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan)

Editor’s Note: Homepage photo via andrearosengallery.com

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