Sunday, January 24, 2021

Gideon Rubin, A Stranger's Hand @ Karsten Greve

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 m├ętier 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!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Antony Gormley, In Habit @ Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac


Antony Gormley, Installation @ Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, June 2020

Antony Gormley's sculptures are about so much more than the material and objects themselves. His recent exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac, In Habit, fills the downstairs space of the gallery with steel. As the title suggests, steel is both habitually running through the gallery spaces and creating a habitation. The title is both a noun and a verb as well as gesturing towards an adjective. Notions of living, home, the built environment, the world we occupy become merged with feelings of entrapment and being stuck, lost, in the sway of something outside of ourselves, something that we cannot control because we are slave to a habit. Or the behavior might be a benign kind of habitual, regular occurrence. Like steel, the body and the object one and the same thing.

In the principle downstairs space, Run II (2019) is like a living, breathing organism, running across doorways, from room to room. As it moves up stairs and around the gallery, I was reminded of a science fiction creature, creeping through a foreign world to which it doesn't belong. And yet, steel is the scaffolding of our world. 

Antony Gormley, Float, 2019

Gormley's use of steel makes the material confounding. I might be reminded of a creature slithering across the floor and around the walls, but the works are made of steel, of an intransigent metal. The works are also about line, the graphic line of the pencil as it moves across a page, the line of a steel infrastructure. The rusted line becomes like a thread, turning at right angles, impossibly. In Gormley's hands, steel reminds of drawings, the movement of our bodies in space, as well as those of an alien organism. Other works such as Float represent the body at rest, in a pose. But then when we look at them from certain angles, we see that the head is raised, uncomfortably held up at the neck, struggling to hold the pose. 

Antony Gormley, Head, 2019

The tension between the organic and the industrial material is always the contradiction at the heart of Gormley's sculptures. In the upstairs galleries, Nest, Float and Head (all 2019) are rusted. These works have no movement, no flexibility, in them at all, and indeed, the figures remind us of bodies holding yoga poses. And yet, they are inflexible, unlike the yogi. Of course, they are also contradictory: they are lines without beginning and end, entwined channels of rust. Run has a beginning and end, even if it is moving into spaces that it doesn't belong. Rust is about politics and capitalism, rust is about the world that we live in. 

Antony Gormley, Run 2, 2019

Like all of Gormley's work, these sculptures play on confusion, not only between the organic and the industrial. They are involved in a process of erasing the distinguishing line between inside and outside. When we stand in relation to Run II, are we inside the matrix or out? And do we see the innards of bodies made of steel, or we looking at figures protected by the skin of rust?

Monday, December 28, 2020

Gregory Crewdson, An Eclipse of Moths, Galerie Templon

Gregory Crewdson, Redemption Center, 2018-2019

On day one of the lockdown light as it was labelled by the French government, the French protested and I went to look at art. My first stop was Galerie Templon's new space on the rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare to see the Gregory Crewdson exhibition. These sixteen new works by one of America's most interesting contemporary photographers are troubling and confounding thanks to the images' representation a horrifying view of America. Learning more about Crewdson's process brings relief. We learn that the photographs are obsessively staged images floating somewhere between a surreal fantasy, a horror film and the harsh reality of contemporary America. In other words, there is no place that looks like the one in the photographs.

Gregory Crewdson, The Taxi Depot, 2018-2019

Each image contains at least two people, usually stopped in the middle of an action, each separated from the others, isolated. Crewdson's production process of composing multiple exposures produces human figures whose bodies are exposed, both physically and emotionally. Their skin looks like wax and their situation is distressing. Often the fact that they stand still adds to the sense that they are more like zombies than people. In one of the rare moments of human life found in these photographs, a young man on a verandah holds a baby's bottle of milk, staring into the distance. At the bottom of the stairs leading to the road below, a pram that, like every other object in Crewdson 's photographs, could have been sitting there for decades. Nothing looks as though it was recently used or is usable and yet, in the middle of it all, a baby is alive. 

Gregory Crewdson, The Cobra, 2018-2019

The figures are always suspended in worlds that cannot nurture them, a carpark with old furniture, an industrial lot, a street blocked by a fallen light post, a dilapidated back lot filled with concrete slabs, a fallen tree, cast off rubber tyres. Within spaces littered with the refuse of another era, the people seem to be caught in the middle of activities that make no sense - young boys asleep on an old mattress in the middle of an old driveway surrounded by the puddles of yesterday's rain. A woman looking at an ambulance stretcher in the middle of a clearing, another sitting in a wheelchair on a dirt driveway, an old juke box ten feet away. Each person, like the surrounding objects, has been very carefully placed on the "set," that tells of a story on pause. We keep wondering what just happened? why are they there? what's going to become of them in this hostile environment? And, of course, this is America in 2020. Again and again, signs of sickness populate the frame: the ambulance stretcher, but also a woman's leg gouged out, a man on crutches, others lying down. it is a world of disease in all its various meanings

Gregory Crewdson, Red Star Express, 2018-2019

It is not only what is in the photographs that makes them unsettling, even troubling. The view presented is impossible. The angle from which the scene is photographed is always slightly elevated, as though the viewer is  being invited to swoop down onto the scene. But yet, we are suspended above this world that has been stopped in its tracks. The aspect ratio of the photographs is also unusual, closer to that of widescreeen cinema than to the traditional formats of photography. I found myself discovering the images laterally, walking across them, searching for clues of a trace of life that I might have missed. I felt as though I was trying to find a way out of this surreal nightmare that is rural America. But there is no way out.

Gregory Crewdson, Cherry Street, 2018-2019

In keeping with - or perhaps in contradistinction to - the cinematicity of the Twin Peaks-ike world of the town in the photographs, it is geographically and historically isolated, out of time and place. It is not just that the action has been stopped by the projectionist. From what we see in the photographs the town has stopped in time. This, despite the fact that there is a keen sense of repetition, the same place used over again in different images, from a new perspective. Every object is stopped in historical time; the containers have been uncoupled from truck engines and they sit, idle, one in flames, while young boys wander across a road in the foreground. Geographically, we see hills in the background, but there is no sense of a world outside of this timeless nightmare.

The title, An Eclipse of Moths, is curious for a series of works in which there is very little sign of life. We think of moths as swarming around an artificial light, in order to expose their wings, even if it is only on the way to their death. In Crewdson's photographs, there is no buzzing, let alone urgency of any kind.

Gregory Crewdson, Funeral Back Lot, 2018-2019

A street sign in the photograph with the man and the child's pram spells A L O N E. We can still see the erased M. A L O N E is nevertheless the message that I get when looking at these photographs. Everyone is alone - isolated from others in the spaces they occupy, like the times we live in, the narratives we inhabit. In addition, the sense of isolation from the rest of the world, of being left alone to fight on for one's life in a world that cannot and does not attempt to nourish, is a familiar state of affairs