until 29.10. | #3618ARTatBerlin | Contemporary Fine Arts presents from 17. September 2022 the exhibition “The Spell” by the artist Cecily Brown.
Contemporary Fine Arts shows “The Spell”, Cecily Brown’s fifth solo exhibition since 2001 at the gallery. Encompassing the artist’s recent paintings and drawings, the show is centered around topics of the male nude and the still life.
Brown’s still lives, with birds’ wings disappearing in layers of red paint, may be rooted in the traditions of Old Masters who made use of the genre to symbolize life’s impermanence, as a reminder of our certain deaths; and yet however morbid or ominous the whirlwinds in Brown’s paintings may seem, there is nothing still, nothing dead about them. On the titular The Spell, Daniel Kehlmann notes in his catalogue text: “It’s unfathomable, and at the same time possesses complete clarity. In the small shrewd face looking at me triumphantly somewhat above the center I think I recognize a magician. I’m unable to read this face; instinctively I’d like to know whether it’s well-disposed toward me, but it keeps its mystery. Then the red swirls of color lead me deeper and deeper into corridors, chasms, abysses, and the suspicion arises in me that the titular “spell” is not something being portrayed on the painting but rather the very fact that I can’t tear myself away from it.”
Correspondingly, the dark, demonic character of her pastels, echoing art historical traditions and influences ranging from Bosch to Bruegel is akin to “a veritable witches’ sabbath: shadowy demons, voracious birds, tortured bodies, and magical creatures, the full force of those ancient fears that nameless storytellers banished into fairy tales, which astonish, confuse, and frighten us to this day.” Influence of both Old and Modern Masters but also Brown’s ability to overcome them is also visible in the work Lady and the Swan exhibited in the gallery’s bel etage, made specifically for her solo exhibition at Staatliche Graphische Sammlung/Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich held earlier this year. In eight variations, the artist reimagines a grisaille by Franz Marc treating the subject of the mythological seduction of princess Leda by the god Zeus in the guise of a swan.
Elsewhere, four naked men stand in four large canvases. Their nonchalance is mirrored in the freedom of their surroundings, and the seeming indifference they are directing toward the viewer, yet contradicted in their staged postures, demanding desire. “We can talk about the male gaze, the patriarchy, the complexities of the male nude and its symbolism in contrast to the relative flattening of the female over the centuries,” notes Catherine Foulkrod in her catalogue essay. “Or we can linger in a transubjective sphere. We can be ‘not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.’ In fact we can find pleasure in the confusion, permeability and profusion of stances and points of view. We can merge nature and culture into one body,” the writer concludes.
Disintegrating bodies and mysterious faces, abstracted into their surroundings just enough without disappearing completely, populate Brown’s large-scale canvases as if emerging from a distant memory, or a dream. “It was the crowd that allowed her to paint the face,” as Foulkrod points out in her essay. “In comparison to painting the face of a single figure, painting faces within the group, the harem, the gang, ‘was freeing in a different way.’ It allowed the faces to be both singular and collective, to be points but not focal points. To be yours and mine and his and hers and theirs and ours all at once. In Blue Sky with Nudes, the faces are differentiated yet fluid, they are with sky and sky, a continual transforming. They are a way out of binary traps, an unfreezing of the gaze. And as our eyes move around and through the features, we transform too.
“The power of Brown’s paintings is to create the sense of uncertainty and unclear boundaries, a jumble of our world and some other. Or, as Kehlmann put it: “Am I still the viewer or already the one being viewed?”
Vernissage: Friday, 16. September 2022, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Exhibition dates: Saturday, 17. September until Saturday, 29. October 2022.
Caption title: Courtesy of Cecily Brown und CFA Berlin
Exhibition Cecily Brown – CFA Berlin | Zeitgenössische Kunst – Contemporary Art | Exhibitions Berlin Galerien | ART at Berlin