|Gideon Rubin, Six Girls in Uniform, 2019|
I didn't know Gideon Rubin's work before seeing this exhibition at Galerie Karsten Greve yesterday. Face to face with the anonymized generic figures, often identified for their métier rather than their person, my first thought was: Luc Tuymans. Like the Belgian artist, Rubin's anonymous figures have the appearance of being hastily painted. A few thick brushstrokes later, they appear on the canvas as troubled and tension-filled figures speaking a greater truth than their own being.
|Gideon Rubin, Untitled, 2020|
The flyer accompanying the exhibition claims that their faces have been erased. However, as I see them, they have been painted over. To me there is a difference. On these figures, we see that there was once a face, but that a brushstroke now covers over the features. The stroke is always made in a skin tone slightly lighter or slightly darker than the one underneath, thus consciously announcing, "this face is being covered over." The eyes mouth and nose are not brushed away, but they are swept under the carpet, so to speak. As a result, there is a hint that the identity is still there, underneath the hastily added swathe of paint. It has not been removed.
|Gideon Rubin, Nurse, 2020|
Without any knowledge of Rubin's process, his turn to photographs and cinematic images as inspiration, I was struck by the heterosexuality of the world he creates. The paintings are populated by white heterosexual figures: couples, families, and in one image which is disturbing for its hackneyed obviousness, a man in a suit stands behind a desk looking down at a naked woman slouched in a chair. The painting is titled The Office 2020. The Six Girls in Uniform , 2019 and Seven Girls in Uniform, 2019, images in which there is no sight of men is also as heterosexual as they come. The image shows the women with their heads bowed, standing like school children or employees, lined up to be spoken to, punished. It is an image pervaded by the generic presence of men scolding women. The flyer accompanying the exhibition talks about how the particularities of the identities are removed. While it is true that individuality is difficult to discern, identity is clear: these are white working women under the sway of a patriarchal society.
|Gideon Rubin, The Office, 2020|
Unlike Luc Tuymans, although Rubin begins with the photograph, there's no way to identify the source. In fact, it wasn't until I read the catalogue that I learned that some of the works began as photographs of Nazi soldiers. With the insignia that gave them their power "removed" from the image, their power is supposedly neutralized. However, I suspect that the insignia might be covered over rather than removed. And, Nazis decorated or not, the paintings represent men with power. The works are not about the photograph in the way that they are for Tuymans. Rubin's paintings don't speak to the reproduction of images, the processes of the image world, its dangers and violations in the way that Tuymans does. Or at least, if they do, the critique of images is different. Power is everywhere apparent, but it is in the pose of the men - relaxed, chest open, legs casually crossed, confident. While women repeatedly have their hands at the their sides, and posed to suggest entrapment. Even Nurse, 2020 has the feeling of a deer in a headlight. Her head is turned to confront the viewer, enveloped in red, surprised that she is being watched. If the women are not being scolded by men, they are uncomfortable, nervous, self-conscious.
|Gideon Rubin, Fourth Avenue, 2019|
If Tuymans creates tension and conflict between identity and the representation of that identity, Rubin is painting power. To reiterate, this is a white, heterosexual power shining a light on the awkwardness of social relations and its expression between men and women. The sadism of men and the reticence of women makes Gideon's paintings unsettling. I was surprised at how much emotion the works stirred up in me, particularly, my anger towards the artist. I kept wanting to ask, "does he know what he is doing?" As if he didn't know!