Andrea Rosen Gallery

Flemish Masters: That’s Life

Flemish Masters: That’s Life

Saturday, January 29, 2011Saturday, March 5, 2011


New York, NY USA

Peter Buggenhout
David Claerbout
Berlinde de Bruyckere
Thierry de Cordier
Wim Delvoye
Kris Martin
Matthieu Ronsse
Jan van Oost

Curated by Filiep Libeert

Andrea Rosen Gallery is delighted to present Flemish Masters, That’s Life, an exhibition featuring the work of eight artists curated by Filiep Libeert. Recently celebrating its 21st year, the gallery has a rich history of inviting collectors to curate projects. While it is clear that collecting and curating are very separate endeavors, in many ways, a collector’s curatorial approach can be especially illuminating. Although Libeert’s collection is international in scope, with this specific Flemish focus in mind he had an evident freedom to present a markedly concise and personal voice, creating unique juxtapositions and readings between the works. While it might be assumed that framing an exhibition around only one particular region would not in itself create a meaningful discourse, and it is clear that each artist in the show has his or her own powerful singularity, the overall content of the work is remarkably coherent. There is a palpable and distinctive Flemish tone of an ominous darkness spiked with wry humor.

Belgium was established in 1830 as an independent, Catholic and neutral country, comprising three communities, three regions and four language areas. All eight artists in the exhibition were born in Flanders, and the majority of them continue to live and work in the Flemish region. Presenting these eight artists as Flemish Masters instead of under a broader Belgian identifier positions them geographically and historically in a loaded dialogue with the great northern painters of the 15th through early 17th centuries including Jan Van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel and Peter Paul Rubens.

Peter Buggenhout’s sculpture The Blind leading the Blind references the famous Bruegel painting of the same title. While Bruegel’s work has a very direct and biblical morality, Buggenhout’s work eludes an explicit reading. Veiled in a thick layer of household dust, the sculpture is intriguing in its visceral objecthood and its fundamental inscrutability.

David Claerbout’s T’Engeltje conflates film, photography and animation, but places equal emphasis on the process of viewing itself as on the magic of the angel statue that appears to breathe, his bronze rose swaying in the breeze. Confronting and confounding our desire to ascribe evolution to the passage of time, Claerbout prolongs the photographic and cinematic moment, until it is a liberated anti-moment.

The daughter of a butcher, now living and working in a neo-Gothic former Catholic boys’ School in Ghent, Berlinde de Bruyckere’s approach to sculpture is filtered through the tortured religious imagery of the old masters, but also draws upon more contemporary horrors like the Holocaust or Rwandan genocide, and a post-apocalyptic vision of the future. De Bruyckere’s fleshy and misshapen wax forms are at once of past, present and future, evoking the universal suffering and solace of what it means to have a body.

In his 1988 performance Discours au monde, Thierry de Cordier claimed “he had absolutely nothing to do with the twentieth century,” relinquishing the context of contemporary artistic discourse and turning his very life itself into an artwork. De Cordier’s alibi and mystic persona was not created without irony. His sculpture, often evoking a crude figure and prehistoric shelter, is hostile and stubborn, but after investigation gives way to a more expressive and romantic reading.

Unafraid of articulating the connection between God and artist as creators, Wim Delvoye’s work draws heavily from the dogma and symbolism of the Roman Catholic Church. By fusing the seductive with the repulsive, the divine with excrement, Delvoye provokes new readings of the sacred and the profane.

Kris Martin is a practicing Christian; his belief in God informs and inspires his investigations of faith and time. Martin’s work often presents an absence or a riddle, a frame or a proposal in which the audience is invited to participate. The surreal, existential effect of The End gives the viewer the sense that “real life” is in fact within the mirror’s reflection- or through the looking glass- a reminder that our clearest perception of life is often when confronted with death. Cast from a scan of the artist’s own skull, the bronze sculpture I Am Still Alive complicates the memento mori, giving equal privilege to the profound truth of our temporality and our human desire for immortality through the record of history. Stopping the hour and minute hand of a cuckoo-clock and painting it black, Martin’s simple gesture in Death in the Afternoon suggests playfulness abandoned. As the last work to be placed in the show, the installation of the clock became the morose punctuation of the exhibition.

Drawing from Giorgione’s Portrait of Warrior with His Equerry from the Uffizi (1509), Matthieu Ronsse’s Cockfighter excises the narrative details of Giorgione’s painting and responds with more personal and contemporary filters. Ronsse’s portrait incorporates the features of a close friend and even elements of his own, and while celebrating the oil and glaze technique of the old masters, has a radical roughness and a charged irreverence for the traditional picture frame.

In Jan Van Oost’s sculpture, death or violence is a point of departure. Formal shapes and metaphors, such as a mirrored coffin, become active vessels for the reflection of humanity and the sensuality of life.

The identity of this exhibition emerges from the rich dialogue between the works and how they address notions of time, corporeality, seduction and repulsion, life and death. Though familiar and historical religious and moral themes of vanitas, memento mori and allegory are readily grasped, Libeert’s interest lies in the contemporary and provocative “aesthetic paradox” of the works, their employment of humor and irony, the macabre and the grotesque as vehicles for transcendence.

For press information please contact Jessica Eckert, j.eckert@rosengallery.com or Renee Reyes, r.reyes@rosengallery.com