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A candy-colored clown they call the sandman
Tiptoes to my room every night
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper:
Go to sleep, everything is alright.
― “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison
Michaël Borremans’s The Devil’s Dress, and Neo Rauch’s Heilstätten, both currently on view at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, grapple with the human figure and landscapes in contemporary painting. Both artists provide inscrutable visions of humanity, but differ in approach and aesthetic. Where Borremans seems to use a scalpel to paint, Rauch uses a shovel. Borreman is Felix to Rauch’s Oscar.
Borremans’ fourth solo exhibition, titled The Devil’s Dress, presents a series of solitary figures in nondescript spaces. An air of solemnity surrounds the paintings. The mood can be attributed to the muted palette, which suggest faded snapshots or news clippings. With unparalleled skill and ruthless efficiency, he creates uncanny likenesses of anonymous men and women. A few flicks of the wrist can suggest the porcelain skin of a young woman or the tawdry crinkle of a cheap chiffon cocktail dress. His application of paint is graceful, assured, and deft.
In “The Loan,” a woman stands on a pair of thick legs with her back to us, opposite a blank wall. The figure is notable for what she lacks: a head. In “Knives,” a youngish woman bows her head as if in prayer. A swoop of blonde hair is bobby-pinned to her scalp. A formless gray tunic conceals her body. In “Girl With Duck,” a moon-faced girl stands in a bare room, a faux leather jacket restraining the swell of her rising bosom.
Though his paintings offer intense approximations of life, Borremans’ cast of characters is bloodless. (If one of his sitter’s necks were to be slashed, embalming fluid would seep from the gash, not blood.) Throughout this suite of paintings, wayward daubs of paint and splashes of raw canvas purposively disrupt their photorealistic sense of illusion.
I have heard people describe his paintings as “theatrical” or “cinematic.” I cannot make this leap. To me, Borremanns is not so much using the figure to tell a specific story, or allude to a narrative, but rather as a platform or jumping off point to explore the strange possibilities of paint.
I identify his subjects as someone I may have seen in a picture book or an old newspaper rather than a particular person with a story or personal history. As I stood in the exhibition, I wondered why he would spend so much time meticulously rendering the visages of anonymous persons.
Rauch’s fifth solo exhibition, titled Heilstätten, is a collection of enigmatic scenes of men and women engaged in odd physical activities — holding the severed head of an owl, wielding a pickaxe, playing the fiddle — in pastoral and familial settings. At first, his canvases read like stories or folk tales. On closer inspection, coherent stories are anything but clear as vaguely Germanic caricatures segue from domestic interiors to drab public parks to barren landscapes. Like Borremanns, Rauch develops certain elements of the painting, while leaving other aspects underdeveloped or half-formed. Each painting is a strange tableau of inexplicable spatial shifts.
In “Rota,” a lone figure wanders along a dirt path. A silver carnival-like spire thrusts into the sky like the Tower of Babel. In “Das Kreisen,” a broken-down burlesque singer in a rotten green dress shimmies on a wooden table in what looks to be an artist studio. A gaggle of men and women — festooned in contemporary and renaissance dress — surround her. A circular window located in the upper left-hand corner reveals autumnal skies. In “Fundgrube,” a motley crew of men and women partake in fruitless activities in a town square. A man in a three-piece suit buries (or unearths) a metal propeller. A pair of fifties housewives throw flower arrangements around an ugly sculpture in Germany. An old man in a yellowed wife-beater fiddles in the garage. There is lots of activity, but nothing is getting done. Everyone is together yet alone, oblivious to either friend or foe as they go about their bizarre duties.
What compels me to continue to look to Rauch is the sheer inventiveness of his compositions and imagery. There is a freewheeling exuberance to his Teutonic chain gang. Part of the fun (or befuddlement) in looking at these paintings is trying to piece together a story or narrative. However long I look, the meaning (if there is one) will remain elusive.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…