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Michaël Borremans Lost in the Sadomasochistic Universe
the secret charms of the enigma
FROM DRAWING TO PAINTING An innocent looking girl sticking pins into nude men (Jetlag girl, 1996/1999); '24 chopped heads pronouncing the word 'Kaas' (19992000); chopped heads adjusted to fit into sardine cans (Boxing Heads, 2000); packages Fromage aux acteurs flamands (2000) with gory pieces of flesh; a face cut off from a head with a steel wire as if it were a hump of clay or cheese (The mask of simplicity, 2000); a gory head aggressed with glass shards (Glass and Blood, 2001); hideously deformed faces of women (Slight modifications, Carnadines, Helmette and Languelette, 2001-2002); a male torso with cut off arms and four bullet holes (The Resignation,2001); horse carcasses neatly arranged in rows (Square of despair, 2005); human toy figures shut down like in computer game
(Shotgun aesthetics,2003); human corpses arranged in geometrical patterns in the series The good ingredients (2006) ... ... ... not precisely what comes first in mind when hearing the name of Michaël Borremans (° 1963). Even less does one think of the rather vulgar sexual representations in Sausage Garniture 1995/1996/1999), Friendly Rivalry (2001), The Ceramic Salami (2001) and Small Virtues (2002). One is rather reminded of figures like Paul McCarthy, Odd Nerdrum, Joël-Peter Witkin, John Currin. Nevertheless, the above is a representative sample of the themes handled in the drawings of Michaël Borremans. It is apparent, then, that, after the proven recipe, the sadomasochistic universe that is openly deployed in the drawings, turns out to be rather concealed in the paintings. To be sure, there are the works for queen Paola in the Royal Palace in Brussels (2010), where - albeit only on closer view - a footman is cutting himself in the finger, or piercing the eye with a finger. But, as a rule, there are only hints in the paintings. A remnant of the bullet holes is found in Terror Identified (1998), where a button of the corset is replaced with a hole. An echo of the mutilated faces resounds in the American Actress (2001), who has a glass shard in her mouth. In The preservation (2001) there are traces of scratching on the eyes and the mouth. In The pupils (2001) fingers are about to pierce the eyes. In The Hair (2002) a kind of pins are piercing the cheeks. What presents itself as a torso, appears to be the counterpart of the chopped heads: bodies severed in two in Anna (2003), Four Fairies (2003), and The apron (2009). That sheds a new light on the glassy planes on which the torsos are displayed, on the panels at middle height of the body in One at a time (2003) and The Feeding (2006), on the book equally at the middle height of the body in The storm (2006), as well as on the disks around the middle in The new corpses (2006) - apparently variants of the glass shards pointed to the gory head in Glass and Blood (2001). In The Thunder (2006), an eye is looking at and a hand is reaching to a cut in a cloth, which reminds of the incredulous Thomas. In The greatness of our loss (2006),the 'shotgun aesthetics' are softened to a paraphrase of the dead toreador of Manet. On Automat III (2008), a girl with a ponytail but without legs, seems to stop a bleeding from the wrist. And in The load III (2009), we see a girl with a cap lying on the ground - 'she is probably dead, almost wringed by the neck' (Van Canneyt) - which sheds a new light on the footmen at the Royal Palace, who wear their livery back-tofront... There is more to the transition from drawing to painting. Already in the
drawings, the traces of sharp, pointed instruments like the needle and the pencil, are washed with clouds of ink or water colours. But, in the paintings, the contrast makes place for the homogeneous application of clearly distinguishable, creamy brush strokes. The shift is thematised in The swimming Pool (2001), where a brush paints the words People must be punished, that look as if they were cut with a sharp chisel in stone - and that cannot but remind of The Penal Colony of Kafka. This exchange of the pencil for the brush is in line, hence, with the effort to conceal sadomasochism: the smooth, creamy oil paint as the ointment on the wounds afflicted by the needle or the pencil. It is no accident that, on the paintings, often soft and shiny cloth is suggested: silk, satin, porcelain - the counterparts of the invisible knives, axes, glass shards and bullets that have inflicted the wounds on the drawings.
FROM SADOMASOCHISM TO TERROR A third method of making sadomasochism socially acceptable, is a shift from the private to the societal sphere, which allows at the same time to have the terror executed by others perpetrators, and to replace pleasure at the sight of the result with indignation. Thus, referring to Trickland, Borremans is talking about 'the rulers who hold us in their grip' (Nieuwsblad), and many a commentator descries the shadows of communist (Prater) and fascist regimes (Amy), or reminds of Kafka, George Orwell (Berk) or Beckett (Coggins, 2009). In terms of academic painting, this transformation of sadomasochism to all kinds of terror comes down to a shift from genre painting - although it was not precisely commonplace to depict everyday sadomasochist practices - to history painting, where aristocracy and clergy are replaced with their contemporary counterparts - from totalitarian regimes and terrorism to capitalism and the free market. The transformation goes through various phases. On images like Jetlag girl (1996,1999) and Chopped heads pronouncing the word "Kaas" (1999-2000), undisturbed pleasure in the result makes it difficult to blame a perpetrator. But that is no longer a problem in Swimming Pool (2001), where the hand of a punishing instance appears in the image. In images like Trickland (2002) and The common world (2002), the gloomy atmosphere reminds of the conveyer belt or of forced labour imposed by some invisible hand. Forced labour still shimmers through in Terror Watch (2002), where the buildings have something of old factories or concentration camps. But it is only in drawings like Shotgun aesthetics (2003), Horse Hunting: The Game
as Lacan would have it. they ignore the onlooker (Drawing. The counterpart of the elusive or blocked gaze of the figures is the gaze of the artist . The shift from doing to a seemingly more neutral watching is a further step in the masking of sadomasochism. Also in three-quarter view.. (2006) and Whistling a happy tune (2006). .and hence the gaze of the onlooker. although he is not always visible in the image. The Greatness of our Loss (2006). Their looking is not an engaging in an interaction with an equal. As if in a stubborn attempt to deny that the picture gazes at us.a move that often leads to the unfolding of the portrait into a genre painting. In other images. the figures are lying and stare to the skies (Earthlight Room. (2002). TO THE SURVEILLANCE OF DOING From the Flemish Primitives onwards. 2003).(2003). or with a black square in Oblivion. according to Christ and Haldemann would refer to child abuse (Dutroux). Even more omnipresent than sadism or terror is the watching gaze.. they look away to the right above (The traveller.. Rather than to the . the eyes are bluntly covered: with tape. they function as their substitute. Such reducing into an object is the spiritual version of bodily decapitation. the figures of Borremans never look into the eyes of the onlooker. that. But rather than as amplificators of the gaze. On many a 'portrait' of Borremans. but rather a submission by a sovereign contemplating subject that has the figures in the image reduced into unresisting beings without a soul. 2005). The Good Ingredients: The Hostages had to Lay Down on the Ground in Order to Form Geometrical Figures. Square of Despair (2005). or lower the eyelids (Anna. the hands are often introduced as additional means of unveiling what is concealed behind the outer appearance . In frontal view. 2007) or down (The Marvel. More ambivalent is Think or suck (1999). 2003). The diversion of the gaze is principial when they turn their back to the onlooker (Still. OVER CONTEMPLATING. as a haven to the subjugated gaze. hands are to be seen. that there is a clearly discernable evildoer. FROM DOING. 2001). 2008) or the ground. like in Various ways of avoiding visual contact with the outside world using yellow isolating tape (1998). Sometimes..
Or we see only the instrument . Crazy fingers (2007). Or we see only the hands. the forbidden action is further obfuscated.as if they were about to do something forbidden.. The pricking of The jetlag Girl (1996) is transformed into the making of images in L'homme frommageux (2000). The impression of some justified activity is further enhanced through the wearing of archaic working apparel . In many an image. without instruments or object. Hence no 'grand gestures' here. the onlooker comes to witness an action that wants itself to be undone. In some images.the permitted activity par excellence. The subjugating gaze is transformed into the surveilling gaze. like in the series The journey (2002). The German (2002 and 2005).needle rather than brush . In all cases. When there are more figures.. but rather shameful hands that would prefer to become invisible . The pupils (2001) and The constellation (2000). (2006). The Stick (2003). appears from images like The advantage (2001). The subjugating gaze follows their lead. so that the hands want to escape it in their turn. and Blue (2005). they often seem to work at some conveyor belt. The Hole. Thus. the figures seem to want to justify what they are doing. 2002). but to other figures who are . like in Four Fairies (2003). Fingerwoman (2007). the eyes are looking at the doings of their own hands. Magnetics (2009). the images of man are replaced with the model of a landscape. Either we see the hands at work (with instruments and objects). like in Manufacturers of constellation (2000). FROM SADOMASOCHISTIC UNIVERSE TO RELAY OF THE SURVEIlLING GAZE In a next phase.like in The examination (2001). How much the hands are tempted by the forbidden. People should be punished. where the hands are immobilised in a straitjacket . the transition from the needle to the brush seems to find its counterpart in the transition from forbidden activity to the making of art .whereby the choice for the coat still reminds of the apron of the nurse or the surgeon. but it is not clear what they are doing.onlooker. like in The Ceramic Salami (2001) Atomic (2003). In Trickland (2002) and in The common world (2002). or to listen to the their master's voice on some conference table (The common world. by lending it the aspect of some handicraft activity. The pupils (2001). the gaze is not directed to the hands. Anna (2003). The wish to become invisible can take various forms. let alone speaking gestures.
the surveillants merely projected their own transgressive desire onto the potential perpetrators in a next relay. This relay of the surveilling gaze is exemplarily embodied in N. 24th of September 2030 (2006). because the onlooker is looking at an image where other onlookers are looking at some spectacle. the result of the action is allowed to appear in the image. there are also images where there is neither action or actor to be seen. then. and the series The Good Ingredients: The Hostages had to Lay Down on the Ground in Order to Form Geometrical Figures (2006). In the images where gazing is the only action. In these works. It catches the eye. where the onlooker looks at giant figures . the criminal intention is relegated to the next potential perpetrator in the relay of surveillance. next to these images where gazing is the only action.C. that. but only the result of an action: Chopped Heads Pronouncing the Word Kaas Simultaneously (1999-2000). so that it can only appear in the image as the result of the action of someone outside the image who he cannot be surveilled. The result of the action can thereby be hidden in the dark. like in The Filling (2005). eventually. In that. Horse Hunting: The Game (2003). Not so much a panopticum hence. history painting. where we find the artist who made the image and the onlooker who enjoys it. Such images can be called images of the second degree. evaporates into a special variant where the focus is on the gaze: the rendering of a world where everybody is an onlooker looked at by another onlooker. stacks of corpses in Shotgun aesthetics (2003). who look in their turn at minute pedestrians on the streets below them.Y. guilt comes to run the relay in reverse sense: from the finish to the start.with their hand obediently above the table -. Such reverse movement unveils the accomplice in the surveillant. surveillance is turned into a transgression itself: the onlooker before the image comes to regard the onlooker in the images as the perpetrator of a non-action: guilty neglect. The relay that is installed between the onlooker before the . where the focus is on the action. but rather a kind of optical relay race. The guilt of the non-intervening onlookers originates in a secret solidarity between surveillants and perpetrators: apparently. The introduction of onlookers in the image makes it possible to condensate both: images where the onlooker looks at people who look at (a spectacle consisting of) the result of the action of an (invisible) actor. where the object of a gaze makes another person to its object in its turn. But through guilty neglect.doing nothing but gazing in their turn. like in Terror Watching (2002) and Square of despair (2005).
This condensation can easily be condensed with the reinterpretation of sadism as terror performed by societal actors . The German part II (2002) and The German. can we understand why these images do not elicit revulsion or condemnation. CIA. Proposal for a wall and ceiling decoration (1999). this time... Through the introduction of these figurines.the 'really existing' counterparts of Kafka and Orwell: be it communist of fascist regimes. Cabinet of Souls (2000). Also these images originate in images of the first degree: in the designs for three-dimensional sculptures of often giant size. Rainpillow. To give an impression of the scale. terrorism. the size of which reminds of giant billboards or film screens. we are dealing explicitly with toy figures . the spectacle is as real as the onlookers who look at it. A Mae West experience (2002). The swimming Pool (2001). but at the image of a spectacle. FROM LOOKING AT A SPECTACLE TO LOOKING AT THE IMAGE OF A SPECTACLE In many images. the images are three-dimensional images: Think or Suck (1999). Borremans adds human figurines. In a first series of works. FROM RELAY TO MATRYOSHKA DOLL . An unintended Proposal (1999/2000). the onlookers in the images are no longer looking at a spectacle.The conversation. or media-tycoons and marketeers who surveil our behaviour on the internet. or rather the surveilling eye of Gestapo. Inflatable monument for John Coltrane(2001) House of opportunities Faller (Kit . I and II (2006) and Whistling a happy tune (2006). Stasi. but rather fascination.image and the final spectacle. Lhomme frommageux (2000). But in other images. Small Museum for Brave Art (2000). But this formula unfolds fully only when we are dealing with two-dimensional images. the gaze of the onlooker is transferred into the image.with three-dimensional images. turns out to be a further attempt at projecting sadism.The Greatness of our Loss. KGB. like in Chopped Heads Pronouncing the Word Kaas Simultaneously (1999-2000). Only when the true function of relay and societalisation are thus revealed. Dreiten Teil (2003). like Cerebral Office (1995) and Le sculpteur de Beurre (20002001). But. The Burden of Ideas (Inflatable monument) (2000). 2002). capitalism and the market.
but they are manipulated themselves. self-sufficient beings who can dispose in all sovereignty of the ants down there . Terror Watch (2002). This should not come as a surprise. From these heights we may feel as almighty.not otherwise than the self-sufficient child that conjures up minuscule figures on its screen to shoot them mercilessly down. the doings of these others have no bearings on our well-being. And. whereas at the same time our endeavour seems futile. whose drawings are often compared with miniatures. a new light is . No concrete political or economical regime is rendered here. Conversely. That is all the more easy when these "much too much" appear as minute creatures. the sadomasochistic universe is narcissistic in essence. Only in scarce cases like The Pupîls (2002) do the figures have the same size as the image. for instance when we look down upon them from some apartment building. as proposed by André Breton and filmed in Le phantôme de la Liberté by Luis Buñuel. the figures are far larger than the (image of the) spectacle they are looking at or the image they are making. Against this background. It will have become clear that they are not the mirror of a world where the aforementioned subjugators or surveillants are at work: they are too indeterminate. exploitation or (political) enmity. like in Spirit of Modelmaking (2001). or like the wild shooter that begins to fire in the crowd. But in a majority of cases.It is no accident that the relay of the gaze goes hand in hand with the introduction of differences in scale. Above all. Square of despair (2005). especially with Borremans. Since we have no real relation with them. gender or generation. since in such a world we have become purely narcissistic individuals. an image is far smaller than the reality it depicts. because. This latter example shows how easily the absence of involvement where reciprocity was expected may stir destructive urges. as a rule. but a world in which we are individuals that increasingly fold back on ourselves amidst an increasing number of other people with whom we have no other relation that being aware of their presence. these giants are only the shackles in an relay that begins with the artist or the onlooker: the figures in Trickland manipulate. The Prospect (2002). This is the key to a proper understanding of these images. our interaction with the others is not a concrete subjugation. but a purely abstract sadism. not differentiated according to political or economical role. That implies that the artists looks like a giant who conjures up Lilliputians on whom he looks down from the heights. it is not difficult to distance ourselves from them and to reduce them to Nietzsche's "much too much". The Journey (2002). Trickland (2002) The common world (2002).
It could be objected that.partakes of sadism.) as an aggressive gesture. appears from the following quote of Borremans himself: 'I regard the presence of a real image in public space (. the relay of the gaze is installed. and an entire universe unfolds where you can play God.shed on the presence of the word 'game' in the titles of these works. In fact. or large-scale two-dimensional images like in Swimming Pool or The German. It appears also from the way in which he wants his images to be 'a knife in the eye'. That is overlooked in interpretations like that of Marianne Vermeijden. and the images often overwhelming giants. neatly arranged in geometrical patterns. Says Borremans himself: 'You start drawing on a sheet of paper. The disguise of these abstract narcissistic/destructive urges as political or economical relations is merely a means of legitimising these in essence un-societal impulses.. although she has a keen eye for the true nature of the forbidden activity: 'His figures are kicked around (. the artist. the relation seems to be reversed: the onlookers are Lilliputians. When. who joins the move of projection. under the cover of the surveilling critic.like in Trickland. and is wholly in line with the projection through the relay of the gaze.. takes the position of the almighty god who plays. that obfuscates the secret solidarity of surveillants and perpetrators as it is evident in the images of the first degree. but also with the manipulating mighty in the image ..‘ (Fiers). it unfolds to a kind of optical matryoshka doll. Dreiten Teil (2003).. where the minute figures have to protect themselves from the deafening sound of the voice .' (Leenknegt/Vervaet). In such matryoshka doll. where it is the hand of the artist that 'paints' the letters on the nude chest.. men who. and on the use of a device for wireless control in Terror Watch (Amy 2008).. I have become an artist. But the reversal is only apparent: the giant artworks are merely the extensions of the even larger figure of the artist that wants the onlookers admire his work. with the introduction of the onlookers in the image. I am a kind of power-mad person. like to handle people like instruments or props'. like in A Mae West experience (2002). The difference in scale between the artist and the Lilliputians in the image corresponds perfectly to the deflation of the dramatis personae to the minute "much too much" and the inflation of the atomised individual to the proportions of a giant or a God. Or in the image itself.) by colourless office giants. or like in People must be punished. Happily. where they look like puppets manipulated by the artist. not only with corpses.such 'becoming famous' . like generals. especially in the aforementioned designs for giant sculptures and screens. And how much such imposition .
who are further devalued in that they are mere toys . where they nevertheless are wearing modern weapons. the regression in history only conceals a regression to childhood. Such boundless melancholy and fascination is only enhanced in that it is concealed behind a rejection of the contemporary world as dominated by 'mighty' of all kinds. The technique does not differ much from the way in which Odd Nerdrum has his figures appear without clothes in a mythical non-time. nor sexual or parental. Borremans does not know the Nazi regime from his own experience. these images had a totally different effect: 'I heard that the work was nostalgic. rather than warning us for a return of the past. FROM PRESENT TO PAST (1) The division of space in scales finds its temporal counterpart in a regression to an ever further past.among . In dressing up the present in the clothes of the past.and only thus is the charm of Borremans' images transformed into a secret charm. Only this approach can account for the boundless melancholy that emanates from these images.of a substitute star . Boundless melancholy: because there are no relations whatsoever in these images neither economical. Borremans wants to shed a new light on the present. political or religious. 2009). that. as well as for their fascination. It should not escape our attention. but only from the stories from his childhood . just like the concrete oppressive regimes only conceal the abstract regime of narcissistic terror in the optical matryoshka.the era of the Nazis. That is why Borremans soon resorted to other techniques of alienation decontextualising or placing the figures in artificial environments.' (Coggins). they used to be situated in the thirties or the forties of the past century .pure images. Only thus do Borremans images come to embody a widespread experience of the world .. In the beginning. And fascination: because in such relationless world the self-sufficient individual is nevertheless surrounded by the negation of its negation: the presence of countless dwarfed others.the magnified Mae West. whereby they are supposed to partake of the 'universal' (Coggins. and that was absolutely not the idea. The most salient feature of Borremans works is that they are not contemporaneous. however. But..
There is no doubt that much is to be learned from the past. and they enjoy reversing this relation when playing with minuscule toy cars or toy soldiers . It is apparent. KGB and Stasi. It is far more easy to condemn communist and fascist regimes and their Gestapo. And this helps us to understand the nostalgia that emanates from many of Borremans' images . That sheds a new light. 'Those women are a kind of fairytale figures. not only on the darkness that hovers over Trickland. The difference in scale between parent and child is a prelude to the even further regression. the more we risk to become an accomplice . that there is more to those giants in Trickland than the atmosphere of the thirties or the forties. At the end of this text. we will have to uncover a further layer. then. FROM SPECTACLE IN THE IMAGE TO THE IMAGE AS SPECTACLE . whereby the self is inflating to the dimension of a god. who introduce minute changes in the world at night' says Borremans. or even the CIA.. This infantile undercurrent only comes to endorse the aforementioned secret charms of the images of Borremans. It is far more convenient to shake one's head at the thought of the Nazi butcher who found solace in playing classical music.. but also on the differences of scale: children often experience their parents as giants and themselves as dwarfs. That raises the question in how far Borremans is really interested in the past. than to scorn triumphant capitalism and the world encompassing free market.just think. We cannot but be reminded of the 'manipulation' of parents when they stage the parallel worlds of Santaclaus and Easter bunnies.or with ants and insects. or the assassination of the Tsar in terms of the assassination of Louis XVI: the differences are more telling than the similarities.them the stories of the forced labour of his uncles in German arms factories. with the concomitant propaganda machines of figures like Rupert Murdoch and Berlusconi. we analysed the effect of King Boudouin or Walt Disney in Luc Tuymans. those of internet marketers included. as far as Borremans is concerned. After the same model. and the concomitant intelligence services. this time in the temporal dimension. of his embroilment in the market as a 'Star des Kunstbetriebs' (Behrisch).the here and now -. not to mention the ' 'strategy of radical complicity' of figures like Wim Delvoye. But that is worlds apart from understanding our time in terms of the Weimar Republic. A new relay of guilt threatens to be installed.for it cannot possibly be a nostalgia for Nazism. The more we approach the temporally unmediated first degree image .
it is the onlooker who looks at such a creation. porcelain sculptures. the figures are doing something with empty. Milk (2003). and the series Slight modifications of the countless selfmutilations in performance art. who used to make sculpture with butter (Grove). as with Piranesi. rectangular surfaces: The table (2001). As we have seen. Goya. the freighted subjects are replaced with purely 'artistic' . In The conducinator. To be sure. One at a time (2003). there is no longer talk of making: the artist is merely looking at what seems to be his creation.There is another thread that leads to images where figures are looking at images: the aforementioned replacement of the forbidden activity with the making of an image.although still called Tatra. Borremans does not work 'after nature': he uses models like toy figures. but also of masters of the twentieth century. We are talking about 'creation'. For. The Lucky Ones" 2002). and above all existing or self-made photographs. no longer people. yes even Van Eyck. The next step is the void canvas: on many images. The saddening (2001) The spell (2001). we only see the architecture. there are also references to the 'fat sculptures' of Beuys (cheese and butter. The theme is handled in various variants. Gradually. and in In the Louvre .contentually rather neutral . like in The Conducinator (2002). plants or residential barracks. Velázquez. they're also able to develop it in various directions. The trend is completed in The Journey. Works like Cabinet of Souls (2000) remind of Christian Boltanski. in these images. especially of the Self-Hybridizations and . Next to the countless references to Magritte. the opposite of the inhabited world.subjects. the landscape reminds of the fact that reality is often mediated by an image. Zurburán. into something aggressive and innovative' (Shinichi). Borremans uses the work of older masters like Manet. the model houses have still something of concentration camps. The drawings of giant sculptures remind of the 'inflatables' of Paul McCarthy. a baker. In images like The Journey (True colours) (2003). where the artist is looking at mountains . the emphasis is on the development of or the comment on existing images: 'Good artists don't just destroy the past. which also remind of his grandfather. But. and no longer of an '(image of a) spectacle'. the image of the world is thereby transformed into an image of the image.the house of Opportunity (2003. where the painter looks at an image that he paints after an image that is placed before him. In a more refined variant. which are in their turn echoes of the large-scale objects of Claes Oldenburg.
'In my opinion' truth' can best be imagined as a black hole. lying on the ground. The concept of a 'conman' implies that. mental world.just to mention a few examples. 'The reason why I want to evocate oldfashioned scenes in my work is that I want to create a kind of parallel world'. Borremans developed his own method to transform the 'narrative' into 'enigma': ' I combine elements that are anachronistic or contradictory'. . Narrative and unequivocal are the images 'in the media' that want to 'make something clear' (Leenknegt/Vervaete).and the way in which she is shown with a sharp shadow.it is a though her neck is wringed . inspired by Vermeer. Borremans himself often emphasises that the artist is merely a 'conman'.. This combination has an enormous power and a kind of bipolarity that makes it unfathomable and poignant' (Van Canneyt). the way in which she is depicted . the buildings in Terror Watching (2002) to the maquettes in the exhibition Mirroring Evil in the Jewish Museum. there is still talk of a mirror.‘ (Fiers).' (Fiers). The horses in Square of Despair (2005) refer to Berlinde De Bruyckere.‘ (Fiers). the construction in Faller Kit to Zbigniew Libera and his Lego construction kits of concentration camps . but rather to itself.to the statement that art does not refer to the world at all. because there are no answers' (Vanderstraeten). Borremans gives an example: 'I painted a milkmaid with a cap. I want to make images that makes thing unclear' (Fiers). As opposed to these indoctrinating images. but I want to go in the opposite direction. But it is only a short step to 'Ceci n'est pas un miroir' . The shift from image of the world to image of the image is a further step in the neutralisation of content.. but I want to make it clear that the world in the image is another. Well. but rather enigma. In short: no propaganda. In his KASK lecture. For there is nothing to clarify: 'I do not give answers.de surgery-performances of Orlan. has something of forensic photography. 'Normally. you get a kind of Ideological failure.she is probably dead . 'In this manner. although it is deforming. FROM PROPAGANDA TO ENIGMA Borremans takes a further step in that he states that his images are not narrative. Borremans wants to make images 'that you cannot define at all': 'open images' (Van Canneyt). 'A parallel world is a mirror image. and precisely that failure is the essence of the work. an image has to make things clear. New York. A void.
Often, the effect is achieved through additions or omissions, like in Sausage garniture (1995/1996/1999) (Grove). Also titles contribute to the confusion: 'They are an essential part of the work.' 'A title can lead or mislead the onlooker. Take my painting of a man in a straitjacket that is called Advantage – the title is an additional element that often leads to confusion, just like the work itself.' (Boel). The method of Lautréamont, hence, softened already by Magritte into a way of lending a 'poetic flavour' to the 'utilitarian world', and transformed into a means escaping of socialist realism by figures like Neo Rauch, is here a means of being relieved from the task of showing something meaningful under the guise of setting the onlooker thinking. That does not prevent Borremans from wanting to tell - and effectively telling - an unequivocal, propagandistic narrative. Wanting to tell: for, on occasion of the figures that change the world during the night in Trickland, Borremans writes: 'Nobody notices, but the world changes gradually'. 'That is the way in which manipulation proceeds: subtly, surreptitiously. That is the way the mighty hold us in their grip.' (Nieuwsblad). Borremans has more messages: 'That the human being is a victim of his situation and is not free is a conviction of mine.‘ (Coggins, 2009). Or, phrased in another - more masochistic - vein: 'people are victims of themselves' (Grove). We already pointed to the fact that this message is rather vague. More important, then, is that, precisely therefore, the images tell a quite different story, the story that we unveiled above (and will further unveil below). Borremans a 'hidden persuader', hence, albeit with a rather ambivalent and veiled message, that, judging from the success of his work, is nevertheless well understood. Borremans' enigma: - different from, but nearly kindred to the pedantic rebus of Jan de Cock, who - equally as an antidote to the indoctrination through the media - wants tot sets us thinking with his 'Denkmal' ...
FROM PAINTING ABOUT THE WORLD, OVER PAINTING ABOUT THE IMAGE, TO PAINTING ABOUT PAINTING An even further step in the installation of the enigma is the contention that painting is not about what there is - equivocally or unequivocally - to be seen on the image, but rather about painting as such: 'I make paintings because my subject matter, to a large extent, is painting' (Coggins). How much the content is thereby disregarded is apparent from
the following quote: "I placed the corks in the same room where I place my human models with the same lights. (...) All the paintings are painted with all the subjects placed in the same room under the same lights. (...) I tried to paint the humans like objects, and the objects like humans, and tried to see the result. So it's also an experiment' (Shinichi). Humans as lighted objects, that is worlds apart form humans subject to the subjugating gaze, yes, even of humans as depicted by other painters... That brings us to our next point. For the emphasis on painting sounds strange in the mouth of someone who, like Luc Tuymans, takes a rather ambivalent stance on painting. Both painters show a marked reserve towards their medium. 'I like it when people call me a painter, because that means that I succeeded in misleading hem. In fact, I am a false painter, I misuse the medium. I have become a painter, because it allows me to play tricks.' (Van Canneyt). We surmise that he refers - among other things - to the fact that, on paper, you can conjure up more than life-size images, but above all to the fact that one can maltreat bodies, give free rein to one's sadistic urges unpunished: mimesis as the refuge for sadism - for the creation of a 'mental world' as 'parallel reality'. The reserve is inbuilt from the beginning in that Borremans - it seems meanwhile to have become a pandemic - does not conceive his image in all sovereignty on the canvas, but borrows it form other images, mostly photographs. There is nothing wrong with that - painters have always relied on existing images (also when they painted 'after nature'). The problem begins only when the very concept of the image is borrowed from another medium, or when the photographic or filmic way of handling the image becomes the subject matter, like in Where is Ned? after a still from the television series Black Beauty - not so much painting about painting this time, but rather painting about photography or film... The reserve is also apparent in that Borremans sometimes would like to end up with a sculpture: 'Some of my paintings are in essence sculptures, but I do not have the know-how to execute them' (Van Canneyt). 'Four Fairies for example was initially a drawing. I would have liked to make a sculpture of it, but I am not precisely qualified. As a big painting, it approached the idea I had first in mind.' (Fiers). Which does not prevent Borremans from delivering real models like his 3-D House of Opportunities (2006), The reserve is apparent above all in the fact that he seems to have
problems with the non-moving image: 'Sometimes I have the feeling that it would be interesting when I could introduce an element of movement' (Van Canneyt). 'A painting is not an immobile image: it moves, it is a presence.' (Fiers). This desire lies at the roots of the transformation of his drawings or paintings in filmic images. Add and Remove (2002) after The evening Walk (2002); The Storm (2006) after One at a time (2003), Weight (2007) after Drawing (2002). Borremans legitimises this transformation in stating that 'film has become a medium that is not transparent - like painting. You know you‘re dealing with film. You know you‘re dealing with an artefact, with an artificial image. With a photograph you look at the image without seeing the medium.' A second legitimation sounds that his films are in essence paintings: ‗My painterly approach as such has always been influenced by film', and, conversely, his films are made from 'a painterly point of view‘ (Kleijn). No wonder that his introduction of the dimension of time is purely formal - rather than a 'plot', we only get the endless repetition of a looped film - for instance a torso of an immobile girl with cut-off legs and a braid turning around on a pedestal. The equation is sealed with the introduction of a frame around the LCD flat screen.
FROM IMAGE TO ORIGINAL The propensity to unfold the non-moving two-dimensional image in space in time - the unease in the non-moving two-dimensional plane demonstrates that Borremans does not primarily think as a painter. A genuine painting - also when it depicts events or actions like the Holy Lamb by Van Eyck or the The last supper by da Vinci - cannot be transformed into a tableau vivant or into a moving image, supposed it would call for such a transformation. The reason is that the original as it appears in a painterly medium - paint on a two-dimensional plane - is thoroughly thought in terms of the plane and its immobility. To Borremans, on the other hand, such thinking in terms of a medium is not a primary concern: 'Since I am primarily interested in images (read: originals), it does not matter whether I opt for drawing, filming or photographing'.' (...). The painted image is only one of the shapes that his in essence image-transcendent originals can take. That many of his originals are conceived during drawing or painting, is no objection: once conceived in terms of a given medium, the artist is out at releasing them as soon as possible from their specific embodiment - or rather: disguise. Therein, Borremans resembles the strip cartoonist who transforms his
is merely the first phase in a series of metamorphoses into more respectable shapes..) Add to this the aforementioned fact that painting allows to circumvent the technical problems of sculpting. The design of an original. What is scorned here as a shortcoming. but about painting' ( 2009. cannot conceal the fact that he is not so much a painter.. That painting is the chosen first metamorphosis. and why he thereby does not opt for the 'high-definition' of the Flemish Primitives (or photography). has to do with purely external advantages: 'That I have eventually decided to draw and pain. but rather for an often juicy. when Borremans declares in his Kask lecture that a change of medium entails a change of meaning. preferably on paper. dass die Werkentwicklung einen unsichtbaren Kern umkreist. then.. 71): the focus on the medium leads only to the focus on the original . is promoted into a 'broadening of the concept of the image' by Reust: 'Bei Michaël Borremans ist in den vergangenen Jahren jedoch immer deutlicher geworden. die den Bildbegriff erweitert. has to do with my closed character. Wie ein spezifisches Bild wirkt..' The emphasis with which Borremans repeats that his films are painterly. is why Borremans makes so much of the painterly. as rather a designer of originals. lässt sich nicht mehr allein in den Grenzen seines Genres oder seines Formates erfassen. It is only an overstatement. That is why Borremans readily exchanges his much-praised brushwork with the totally different grain of the film. she rather reveals that the focus is primarily on the original: for instance the torso of an innocent but immobilised girl with a braid in Drawing (2002). The skirt and the film Weight (2005). When Katrien Schreuder describes the art of Borremans as 'a film of a painting of man as a sculpture'. and the fact that you can maltreat the human body unpunished. That is also the reason why drawing is his 'secret weapon' indeed (Grove). suggestive . then. hence. FROM MEDIUM TO SIGN The question.' (. whereas a film requires team-work and also in photography. You can make a painting on your own. eine metamediale Tiefenstruktur. And it is somewhat besides the question.figure into three-dimensional puppets. Das Rätsel ereignet sich ebenso im einzelnen Bild wie zwischen den Bildern in der Konstellation.and thereby to the devaluing of the media in which it is embodied. when Ziba de Weck Ardelan contends that 'Where is Ned' 'is not about a portrait. you depend on others.
But.the suggestive brushstroke . with the 'the real thing'. That the combination of brushstrokes with true to nature rendering . In the same vein.again . the other one being its function as a sign. but rather painters like Velázquez. they have been one of the first manifestations of modernism. they were even the very hallmark of modernity at the time of the diverse kinds of action painting. we are not dealing with the intently clumsy strokes of Luc Tuymans. has everything to do with the fact that it inevitably reminds of the heydays of pre-Modern. the brushstroke can only play this role in that it is at the same time the embodiment of a tradition of making images with the aura of respectability and technical skill. In that the technical skill imposes itself. In combination with expressionistic deformation. True to nature painting uses to have a predilection for brushless paint. the .hence 'suggestive' . and that precisely therefore is often scorned as 'academic'. also the paintings of John . For.brushstroke . then. meant to deny this kind of painterly élan. or either made 'painterly' by wrapping it in a 'flou artistique' (Gerhard Richter) or by simplification of tone and outline (Neo Rauch). the attention is .especially since the fine-grained film has its own potential in matters of sadism: the cutting edges appear all the more sharp. To phrase it with Grove: 'The images often circumvent a simple association with cruelty or violence through the sheer beauty of their execution' (2004. the Baroque brushwork of painters like Eugène Leroy and Sam Dillemans included. The sign value of this brushwork is constitutive to the painting of Borremans. Released from every trace of figuration.brushstroke is rather rare (think of Odd Nerdrum or Thierry De Cordier). is only one facet of the choice for the juicy brushstroke. in combination with a rather true to nature rendering.is so rare. although Borremans' model is not Rembrandt or Caravaggio. and they became socially acceptable again with the diverse forms of neo-expressionism. whereas the skin seems at the same time even more undamaged and the fabric all the more smooth. With Borremans. although the denial of sadism is its central function. Brushstrokes as such are not new in in the twentieth century. but postRenaissance painting .precisely the 'academic' model that has been so scorned by modern artists. just like with Odd Nerdrum. The unctuous potential.41). like with the photorealists.diverted from the content. that is either literally 'photographic'. but.
I just make beautiful pictures' (Doroshenko.Currin are described in Wikipedia as 'provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skilful manner'.. gods and saints . Pink shoes. then.not otherwise than the suit worn by Borremans when he paints: the Sunday version of the later working apparel . Behind the contours of the giant figures in Trickland and Four fairies loom up not only the shadows of the accomplices of Stalin and Hitler. It becomes apparent. It is only to his credit that Borremans is the first to be aware of that . One could perhaps contend of Borremans' brushwork that it is beautiful. The joy experienced when recognising this good old academic brushwork . of which the falling back on the thirties and forties of the past century is only the prelude and the denial. 29). Borremans writes: 'I try to shock. to which the statement 'I . Somewhat in the vein of Odd Nerdrum. (2003) Dragonplant (2003).just imagine Velazquez having painted his images. (2005). The formula works. Which sheds a new light on the 'still lifes' in the work of Borremans: The fruitbasket (1999). because it suggests at the same time a different content.an afterglow of the crinolines of Velázquez' infantes. who posed as 'the king of kitsch'. Next to the denial of this glorious world in figures and props of the thirties. that this descent into the sadomasochistic universe goes hand in hand with a regression to former better times. The method is all the more efficient in that the shocking through sadomasochism is replaced with shocking through the use of an academic style. The brushstroke not only an unction. p. Sleeves.appears in full bloom in The Garment (2008) . hence. The beauty of their livery . there are also direct references to this undercurrent: just think of the feudal footmen who turn their backs on their bosses on the paintings in the Royal Palace in Brussels.often culminates in a panegyric of the technical skill and the virtuosity of Borremans .the societal counterparts of parents or guardian angels who roam around the cradle of the sleeping infant somewhat like the sublime landscapes of former times loom up behind the dark. And also the photos of Joël-Peter Wikin become artistically acceptable only by being wrapped in an artsy disguise.this fetish of craftsmanship . but certainly not of the world that it evokes. but not through sex and violence. dead-end landscapes of Thierry De Cordier. but in the first place kings.a panegyric that has to be taken with a grain of salt... but also a flag. Borremans conjures up a dark universe through a beauty that is developed for the rendering of the radiant and glorious world where the 'mighty' posed as benevolent gods and good kings with the corollary shine of harmony and bliss. On top of that it is also a cover. and hence a lightning rod in the first place.
as rather a parasitising on outdated manifestations of it. like Piranesi. He thereby overlooks the fact that his kind of brushwork is developed in a totally different context: the self-assured glorification of heaven and court . FROM PRESENT TO PAST (2) The question remains in how far Borremans' painting technique is in keeping with our times. therefore. . To phrase it positively: Borremans should rather have developed a language that corresponds to the sadomasochistic universe.an idea cherished by Borremans . conversely. highlights all the more how much the descent in the sadomasochistic universe itself is a fall .' (Vanderstraeten) He seems to assume that techniques are timeless.just paint beautiful paintings' may apply more aptly. And. sadism the brushstroke . there seems not to be a problem: 'I wanted to make contemporary.or of the world within the canopy bed where the brush stroke resonated with the content rather than being its negation.it suffices to imagine these paintings with a nonproblematic subject-matter. and execute them with old techniques and media. Borreman's recycling of 'old techniques and media' is not so much the working out of a contemporary version of a technique that is in essence timeless. authentic images. It is only the combination with the sadism that is concealed by these brush strokes.the incapacity to stand upright in the face of our contemporary world. And therein the brushstrokes only succeed in that they do not function as a medium of sadism. as a lightning rod it also diverts from sadism. that lends this outdated form of painting a touch of novelty. The brushstroke is not only the unctuous denial of the sadistic scratching of the needle. if not an attempt at debasing an societal ideal that in the past was at least kept up. as a cover. but. To Borremans. Thus does not only the brushstroke save sadism. but as a sign for its opposite. Borremans' work is contemporary only in the documentary sense of 'typical of our times'. as it appears from the countless attempts at escaping described above. it conjures up echoes of a world that is the complete reverse of the sadomasochistic hell of his works. not in the sense of 'zeitgemäss' (in keeping with the times). But the bad conscience about the addiction to this universe. not only in that it pretends to measure up with the respectable feats of illustrious predecessor who were at work in churches and palaces .but above all because.
with whom everything threatens to disappear in whiteness. Those colours have to do with a lack of expertise.the epiphenomenon of the equally abandoned struggle against the world-wide triumphant capitalism with the concomitant nationalistic and religious restoration . not to mention Wim Delvoye with his gothic towers. with Borremans. . . But how about his craftsmanship in the more narrow sense of the word: the general mastery of the medium as such? Above. But I also do not like to use outspoken colours. As little as Tuymans. I never use black. rather than being a background.the domain of the painter by excellence? The palette of Borremans is rather muted. Borremans is no great colourist . like that of Luc Tuymans. CRAFTMANSHIP As far as real craftsmanship . that brown is rather a marsh in which colour threatens to drown. The recycling of past styles is in matters of art the counterpart of the return of religion and nationalism in matters of communal feeling. But. they serve the painting' (Coggins. But. everything looms up from a brown. otherwise than Tuymans. Luc Tuymans and Michael Borremans.(. 'Overpowering colours create a language that‘s not useful to me.nostalgia seems to pop up everywhere . colour has only a supportive function. That‘s why I choose unsaturated colours. who deems himself the new Rubens. 2009). otherwise than with Tuymans. I think that the image has to have the priority. from which colour lights up. because they divert the attention too much.. In that respect. Borremans knows it: 'I am not a great colourist.but.just think of figures like Odd Nerdrum.Borremans utterly fails.the conception of 'zeitgemässe Bilder' in an appropriate language .primarily conceived in black and white. the paintings of Borremans can rather be understood as magnified drawings . we have already dealt with the brushwork as compared with Velázquez.After the heaven storming of modernism that knew not to break much fresh ground .‘ (Fiers). Everything is mixed out of colour but the colours don‘t play a starring role. How about the colours . that lends his work an additional academic flavour. Thierry De Cordier. To me.). Both trends are exemplarily united in the music of Arvo Pärt. Gloom prevails. and some recent works seem to disappear in darkness altogether.
But.how little we are dealing here with the continuation of the tradition in the true sense of the word.or in the hand-made image in general. When the artist exchanges the pencil for the brush.a widespread phenomenon in our age of 'multimedia' and 'cross-over'. that the composition of Borremans is often photographic or filmic. Really large formats are rare. Add to this the aforementioned incapacity to embody 'eine zeitgemässe Sicht' on our contemporary world in an adequate language. he fails to rise to the challenge (Dorochenko. and the corollary thinking in terms of originals.And that brings us to the problem of size.and conversely: why Goya's Desastres are so convincing. not otherwise than the forbidden intentions of the gestures of Borremans' figures. not so much because of the number of figures.a more than life-size shepherd. His images are merely well-framed . As a rule. that they are often compared to Flemish miniatures. That has not so much to do with the number of figures. There is no problem when Borremans paints single large figures. when Borremans wants to tackle more complex compositions of figures. like in The avoider (2006). the drawings are so small. not only in the formal sense of the word . this has everything to do with the flirting with media that unfold in space and time. Sadistic representations tend to shun daylight. and it becomes clear how inadequate the craftsmanship of Borremans is . To be sure. Perhaps this explains the paradox that the small drawings are far more monumental than the versions that are magnified on canvas. Although it must be granted that the latter is not .a handling of outdated and therefore inadequate world views. as it should be in painting .not inherently conceived in terms of the logic of the frame and the rectangular surface. as rather because of the importance of the subject. whereas the giant sculptures or screens in his drawings are convincing indeed. rather than in terms of an image-in-a-medium . Needless to remind. That is why Caravaggio's 'Decapitation of Joan the Baptist' is so embarrassing. but rather with the fact that size obliges: history paintings used to be large.as is usual in photography that by nature has to rely on pre-existing originals . 31).a parasitising on approved technical procedures . finally. just like the life-size porn of Jeff Koons . but we are still dealing with the rather modest size of 100 X 180 cm. the size increases accordingly. But the paintings remain small. paintings like Trickland are large in comparison with the preparatory drawings. but rather with an academism.but foremost in the contentual sense . As seen.
hence.‖ Die Zeit (May 14. DE BRUYN. 2009). Not so much the intrinsic qualities of his work. FIERS. BEHRISCH. ―A Belgian master of the enigmatic. 2008. 2004. David: "Interview: Michaël Borremans'.‖ Tema Celeste (July/August 2006): 42. Els: 'Ideologisch falen: een gesprek met Michaël Borremans'. CityZine Gent 2010 2011. CHRIST. ―Michaël Borremans. Michael: "Whistling a happy tune'. Ludion 2008. Zeichnungen'. Art in America. ―In der Schuhschachtel. EX. September 2010.‖ The Observer (May 15. Hans D..so much the responsibility of Borremans. David. Metropolis M. Laura. DOROSCHENKO. ―Werkruimte: Michaël Borremans‖ Hollands Diep (May/une 2010): 134-135.. November 2005. 2005). lightning rod and cover are condensed in it. Walter König. Über die Zeichnungen von Michaël Borremans' (sine dato).‖ Art in America (June/July 2006): 194. David. Michaël and LAMBRECHTS. Michaël.' documentary from Guido de Bruyn. Sven. COGGINS. CUMMING. CARRIER. BOEL. flag. ―The Theater of the Absurd.net/english/info. BERK. Peter: 'Interview met Michaël Borremans' in 'Michael Borremans. . Jef: Kask lezing 11 May 2010. 3/1/2009.htm CONSULTED TEXTS AMY. BORREMANS. Nicole. explains the secret charms and constitutes the enigma unveiled of the paintings of Michael Borremans. ―Michael Borremans at David Zwirner. Jonas: 'Interview met Michaël Borremans'. AMY.: 'Warning! This is a philosophical drawing. © Stefan Beyst. Guido: 'Michael Borremans: A knfie in the eye. Anne: 'Onzichtbare krachten' Kunst nader bekeken. COGGINS. translated October 2010 from 1968 to 1994 lecturer philosophy of art and history of modern art http://d-sites.‖ Artforum (September 2005): 308. interview Jef Lambrecht and Anne Luyten. but rather the way in which unction.
VAN HOVE. Jennifer:'Enigma Variations' Frieze Magazine.‖ Modern Painters (May 2006): 111. .27. 2009. 2004.‖ The Ember (July 1. 2005. Zu den Zeichnungen von Michael Borremans' in 'Michael Borremans.: 'Michaël Borremans: People must be punished'. PRATER. Zeichnungen'. Joshua. Hatje Cantz. ―Michaël Borremans at David Zwirner. 05-09-2007. 2010.‖ Artforum (May 2009): 233. GROVE. Christine: 'Meesterleugenaar Michael Borremans'. zondag 27 februari 2005. ―Michaël Borremans: Horse Hunting. nr 16. nr. 2010). NIEUWSBLAD: 'Kunstenaar Michaël Borremans in SMAK '.GERMANN. 2004 HIGGIE.): 'Michaël Borremans: Automat'. D. Schamper. Hilde: 'Interview met Borremans en Manor Grünewald' 5/02/2009. Elizabeth. 2008. 05. Rekto:Verso. De Standaard.kunst'. Catrien: Studies van de mens als ding. SCHREUDER. MACK. VANDERSTRAETEN. Koen: 'Interview Michaël Borremans: Een goed schilderij beweegt'. KASTNER. Kunstbeeld. Hans Rudolf: 'Life in Stills . Zeichnungen'. 2006 LEENKNEGT. KLEIJN.1. 2009. Anita: 'Modelle und Modifikationen'. Walter König. OSTROW. HALDEMANN. Jeffrey. in 'Michael Borremans. July 17. Jeroen: 'Het verbannen medium: James Sante Avati (19122005) en de schijnstrijd illustratie . LAUREYNS. 2009. ―Strange Days: The Drawings of Michaël Borremans. Martin and GÖRNER.‖ Angle (September/October 2005): REUST.Metabilder bei Michaël Borremans' in GERMANN. De Groene Amsterdammer. A world of quiet mystery'. Saul. Uchida: 'Michaël Borremans. 2010. interview Art It. VAN CANNEYT. MICHAËL BORREMANS: 'The Performance'. Hatje Cantz. Jeffrey. Het Nieuwsblad. Issue 89 March 2005. Simon and VERVAET. Hatje Cantz. 3 november 2009. saturday. Margot: Michaël Borremans. VUEGEN.): 'Michaël Borremans: Automat'. Veit (Ed. Martin en GÖRNER. SHINICHI. ―Michael Borremans – A Victim of His Situation. Jan: 'Ik maak alleen wat er toe doet'. Veit (Ed. Walter König. Céline: 'Michaël Borremans en zijn credo's'.
2008. 40 x 50 cm The Field. I may hope.ADDENDUM November 2010: Borremans' current show 'Eating the Beard' in Zeno X Antwerp only confirms my analysis.. 16 mm film . 2007. Oil on canvas. The fact that a figure like Pinault is buying this work is no counter-argument. http://d-sites.htm * Portrait: Nagare Satoshi Text: Uchida Shinichi Fixture.net/english/info..
I paint various kinds of people.The Feeding.albeit unknown to themselves . which are depicted with a fineness bordering on hardheadedness using a palette based on beautiful dark hues. Borremans' first solo exhibition Japan. 2006. that was revealed to visitors to Earthlight Room. I've adopted the format of portrait . seem either to be devoted to some private ritual. 2008. 40 x 50 cm All images © Michael Borremans If there were such an activity as creating quietness. as if a spell has suddenly been cast on them in the midst of their daily routines. Oil on canvas. Just as many artists have done in the past. symbolic metaphors. but in each case they're important not as portraits of particular people but as general 'human beings'.some endless activity. I depict the act of doing. or creating. 35 mm film transferred to DVD Commutation. They're more universal. "It's not important who they are or what they're doing exactly. then Michaël Borremans' paintings could well serve as a model. Who are they and what stories are they living? It was this world. The figures in his paintings. or repeating . a world of what could be described as "quiet mystery".
But when works become too conceptual. which the artist has exhibited from an early stage in his career. A work is complete only when there has been this collaboration between both parties. according to Borremans. The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures (editor's note: designed by Taniguchi Yoshio). has also been displayed in the form of a scale model (The German). "All artists are influenced by works from the past.painting for my work. for the first time all the paintings are painted with all the subjects placed in the same room under the same lights. but I'm not interested in whether they're realized on the stage or not. but he's also contemporary. and perhaps even more in the future. I tried to paint the humans like objects. Each viewer can view it however they like. I'm simply using that format. is what fascinates him the most. That's not what I want to do. Good artists don't just destroy the past. too. but at the same time contemporary. the manner in which these anonymous individuals and their mysterious actions are depicted in an atmosphere that at times calls to mind 19th century portraits is striking. "I placed the corks in the same room where I place my human models with the same lights. reflect a more surreal worldview. For this show. "A lot of my drawings are proposals for paintings or installations. and tried to see the result. and in a sense you can say something's already been realized once someone has imagined it. it was fascinating to see a lone still life among the portraits in this exhibition. they're also able to develop it in various directions. and of recuperation. I think." Many of Borremans' drawings. I will continue to do this for my next show. So it's also an experiment. this. That's why it's called Earthlight Room." Certainly. But what I paint aren't 'portraits' as such. is also very old and universal. which I visited the other day." The important thing is how the viewer responds to the work. and the objects like humans. Bruce Nauman is grounded in the past. However. it's a question of reflecting rather than respecting. One of these. which almost resembles a sketch for a stage design. You say they remind you of stage design." . there's no place any more for the imagination. Speaking of which. In the same way that there is a writer and a reader. into something aggressive and innovative. I like the world of the imagination.
and it was too real.The exhibition also included a number of film works. "I tried to depict it as if it's a moving sculpture. which turns its body while staring into space with eyes that appear to be drained of all emotion. 2009. It's incredible. I like to work without being dominated by anything. isn‘t it? With regard to becoming busy and that affecting my work…I don't want to work for a show. "There's probably some influence." One of these films. it's painting. Contemporary artists who are successful today have a show here and a show there and they have to tell people all kinds of things. As with all the works in this show. However. You can walk by it if you want. too physical. You don't have to watch it from beginning to end. It didn't correspond to the picture in my head.27 .although it's not really an influence . these. and you have to watch it and it's very boring. The Field. I'm not afraid to use beauty. But that reminds me . which Borremans began to incorporate into his shows several years ago. really. It's not physically there. Once I did try to make a sculpture like in this film. I asked Borremans if all the traveling to different cities around the world that's resulted from the steady increase in his popularity as an artist has also affected his creative activities. There's an almost sculptural quality to the figure. too. I present it like painting. "What I do in film. I also want to make it beautiful. as far as the artist is concerned.1. consists of languid shots of a young woman whose body abruptly turns into a flat surface resembling a table from the waist down (a painting with the same motif was also displayed)." Finally. are "paintings". yet I was surprised after coming to Japan to discover that the scene inside the kitchen of a tempura restaurant resembled very closely the scene in this work. The Feeding was created with no reference whatsoever to Japanese culture. But it's just an image. and an image is like a ghost. like the kind of works they'll show and the titles of the works. What I don't want to do is have people go into a dark room.of something that occurred to me the other day." Fitting words from an artist whose paintings manage to draw out such an abundant world from "quietness". When I think about that I cannot work.
keeps you waiting there as if there was the slightest chance of seeing what might happen next. . Its context is also unclear. until 30 June It could hardly be simpler . London's newest centre for contemporary art. What is in it? Jewellery. Parasol is devoted to bringing leading international artists to new audiences in Britain. a body? The image presses you to guess. But they are in almost every other way bizarrely ambiguous. Sunday 15 May 2005 Michael Borremans Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art. with its pearly satin drapes. as it is called. An ordinary object transformed into something thrilling. there is a tremendous technical foundation to the paintings. an atmosphere intensified by the singular fact that the box is hidden beneath a cloth. 14 Wharf Road. open-ended. And yet the cloth. letters.and yet more charged. London N1. since there is nothing to measure it against. housed in high. The painting holds you in suspense. pictorial magic in itself. its surfaces reflected in a highly polished floor. despite the fact that what is presented is made to look so solidly everyday and permanent.A Belgian master of the enigmatic Laura Cumming The Observer. who has long deserved a solo show in this country. he trained as a draughtsman and this underpins all his art. It is nearly impossible to work out exactly what is going on in each image. Born in 1963. It could hardly have chosen a better subject for its inauguration than Belgian painter Michael Borremans. is also the title of the first show held at Parasol Unit. The Performance. The picture shows only a box. money. The Performance is en route from Ghent to Ireland via London at the same time as a show of his drawings goes to the US. The size of this box is not apparent. although it stands in an empty room with putty-coloured walls. Founded by Ziba de Weck as a non-profit organisation. also suggests that some sort of magic might be about to take place. white galleries designed by Claudio Silvestrin. Which in itself gives a strangely spectral quality to the scene. as if a conjuror were about to whip the cloth away or something were about to spring from the box.
Take The German, in which a man with a crew-cut wearing a Thirties suit sits before a table holding what appears to be a red-beaded rosary. But is it a rosary or a clutch of cherries? Some of them even seem to have escaped and become attached like burrs to his cuffs, as red as bloody thumbprints. He looks down at them with a knowing self-consciousness, as if perfectly aware of your presence and bewilderment, but not about to give anything away. It is both more and less than a portrait, a recognisable likeness, but of a man whose character and occupation have been subtly occluded in the final painting. What was he actually doing, you wonder, as with so many of these pictures. Borremans's figures are almost always engaged in some apparently ordinary yet inscrutable action. Two figures take a scalpel to something offstage. A woman raises her hands as if to type, yet there is no machine. Two men attend to a pile of white... white what exactly? Could they be sizing some canvases? Small but mysterious gestures: that is partly Borremans's subject. A finger stretches into a painting to touch a fragment of something glassy or reaches out to pick a miniature tree from a shelf of identical trees (which puts you in mind of the artist himself, picking and choosing motifs). Hands point, touch, write, select, yet the exact nature of each operation is not disclosed. And the tremendous absorption of these figures in what they do lends conflicting moods sometimes darkly comic, sometimes disturbing - to the paintings. Just as striking is the period look of these scenes, which seem to be set in the low-watt Thirties or Forties. French plaits, razor crops, pre-perm coiffures, puffed sleeves, dark suits with wide lapels; men in duster coats, women in kerchiefs; studies and wood-lined laboratories. Borremans works with a twilight palette as well, shifting shadows, odd reflections, porcelain lustre: it's all a brown study with variations in grey and pearl. Which enhances the strange air of dated detachment and instils a certain nostalgia. It feels as though you are looking back at history, not the long past but something still familiar from black-and-white movies and, sure enough, like film stills, these images all seem to come with a backstory. But what that story might be remains a puzzle. Are these images extracted from real narratives (perhaps documentaries about the war effort, feature films or tales of prewar science)? Are they partly true or purely imaginary? I stared for a long time at what appeared to be a group of people enacting a scene from a 17th-century Dutch painting, reflected in a window pane burnished with a reflective glint (itself a play on those domestic interiors with their perfect housekeeping) without realising that
this might be the representation of an art book open to show an illustration, incidentally struck by the light of the present. What painting is, has been and can be is always brought to mind. Take the four girls trying to keep poker-faced as we look at them in their wellpressed frocks. At waist height, they simply disappear altogether in a kind of Richard Wilson oil slick; in this case, the very paint from which they are created. Borremans keeps these discontinuities in check so that they tease the mind without undermining the image. He might have shadows that aren't soft and secondary but active and primary, real as the object silhouetted. The effect is to remind you that these are images, not people, that you cannot really know their inner thoughts. Yet Borremans's gift is for snaring you, enthralling you with all sorts of characters, strange scenarios and possibilities. The three students in their lab coats looking down at what appear to be three dummy or decapitated heads on a counter seem to be at work until you notice that the heads are identical to their own. And running between each boy and head, eye to eye, is a fine thread of white paint, a sight line, if you like. Self-regard, self-doubt, self-consciousness: all are touched on in this complex riddle, which plays on the act of looking into, but being unable to enter, the illusions of a painted world.
Michael Borremans 05/07/2010 (tr. From Dutch) (Interview: Jonas Boel, appeared in CityZine Ghent 2010-2011)
We have had the pleasure of interviewing some great people over the years; legendary punk rockers who retired early, a notoriously eccentric film director, an ex-boys band member with loads of ambition. But still we're a little nervous when we ring at Michaël Borremans' door in St. Amandsberg. Not only is the man one of our favourite artists, he is also an internationally respected and successful painter. He welcomes us in his house / studio, a beautifully renovated carpenter‘s workshop. In the middle of the living area is a drum set, we count about four guitars and a black grand piano. The creative outpouring here is not just paint and brush work. A bottle of whiskey and an ashtray appear on the table, even though anti-smoking guru Allen Carr's book is within reach. ‗Well yes, one moment I stop, the next I start again.‘ How did you find this beautiful building? Borremans: I bought the building in 1994 with my girl-friend at the time. It was in ruins, we renovated it from top to bottom. I don't like the feeling of having to go outdoors to feel space, that is why this is a good building for me. But I have to be able to work at any moment, that's why it's essential my studio and house are one. You never know when you might be inspired. Borremans: Exactly. I am quite chaotic when I work, I need to have everything within reach. I don't need that much room for my paintings, I usually work small. In principle I could work in the kitchen of a small house. Art is created by necessity, the artist's studio is here (taps his head). Not having a studio is a bad excuse to not work, even if I were homeless I'd keep on working. Every limitation can be a blessing. You're originally from Dendermonde, how did you end up in Ghent? Borremans: I went to school here; 'Vrije Grafiek' at Sint Lucas. Afterwards I lived in Brussels with my girl-friend. I taught evening classes in Ghent and she worked during the day, we hardly saw each other and needed two cars. It wasn't easy for a young couple, so out of pure misery we moved back to Ghent. (quickly) Oops, I shouldn't have said that I guess? (laughs). You stayed here, I assume you didn't mind. Borremans: Not at all! It‘s just that at the time I was really enjoying living in the cosmopolitan city of Brussels. Actually it doesn't really matter where I live, but here in St. Amandsberg I
I like bad weather. Sometimes it leads to confusion. it makes you think. Soon I'll have a country house in Wallonia in the middle of nowhere – I'm looking forward to retreating there from time to time. it's a conceptual given. I like the climate and the light in Belgium. Plenty of inspiration. Take my painting of a man in a straitjacket with the title Advantage – the title is an extra element you provide. Borremans: Be that as it may but I didn't come up with it. How important are the titles of your paintings? Borremans: Very important. But I agree. they are an essential part of the work. Do you know of any musician who is a good painter or vice versa? . the exposition fits in a series of six different expositions around the same theme. we look at art with the title. Have you ever considered living abroad? Borremans: My daughter goes to school here. When I come home from one of these trips and am able to ride my bicycle over Ghent's cobblestones I am a very happy man (laughs). Borremans: To be quite honest. Nowadays.feel very much at ease as an artist. What name did you choose? Borremans: ‗Michaël Borremans‘ (laughs). as does the piece itself. Wallonia is kind of like being abroad as well. In my spare time I write songs and nowadays I am not averse to using fragments from literature. I am tied to Ghent for a while still. Borremans: A good trick. I even considered naming my company Bad Weather Production. You play guitar and write songs. Currently there is a Borremans exposition in Denver with the great title ‗Looking at the face I had before the world was made‘ – it seems to describe you perfectly. For my exhibitions I regularly have to be in New York or Tokyo where you are driven around in limousines and invited to exclusive parties. The objective is that you question your point of view as a spectator. it's a great title. A title can lead or mislead you. The sentence is from a poem of John Keats.
Michaël! Borremans: Exactly! ‗I'm a hippie‘. freewheeling rock‘n roll.Borremans: I think Bent Van Looy of Das Pop is a decent painter. Are you a born painter? Borremans: I only started painting at the age of thirty but I have always worked with images. It's a hobby. I can't produce nice work if I wear dirty clothes . painting is my church! I have about twenty suits but some of my suits seem to have bad vibes because I produce bad work if I wear them. Everything starts with the imagination. My paintwork also contains a lot of rock‘n roll. My group The Singing Painters regularly meets up to improvise. I drew. yes. although I don't know whether he still does it. The songs I write I write for myself. and there's nothing you can do about that (laughs). I don't feel the slightest need to tell the world. and when I do hear it it works on my nerves (laughs). Do you still paint in your suit? Borremans: That's a ritual. You have to choose. Part of it is superstition of course. I am extremely concentrated in a kind of Medieval atmosphere: daylight and complete silence. I could also have been a writer. When people used to go to church. the better the painting. just like footballers who always wear the same underpants for an important match. Borremans: I'm not a technically gifted guitarist and I'm a bad musician. Why do you ask? Because good musicians rarely make good painters and vice versa. The ritual has to do with respect. Don Vliet. alias Captain Beefheart. I never asked any questions.the nicer the suit. I really must give them away (laughs). Sometimes I paint on my bare feet and in the summer I sometimes paint in the nude. A way to let off steam. respect for what you do. With a pencil and a sheet of paper you can evoke a suggestion you . I can also work with language. Do you have music on when you paint? Borremans: Never. That's when I'm the painting nudist. It was simply the way it was. our repertoire ranges from very modest to pure. I don't hear it anyway. I find. but I never applied myself. didn't they? Well. they wore suits as well. You're just a hippie. was already a good painter before he became known as a musician.
could not express in language. a lubricant. In a drawing everything is possible. Although of course I'm happy it's there. out the other. I am always thinking about the next piece. not in a painting. Do you prefer compliments about the content or the aesthetic aspect of your work? Borremans: For me the content prevails. A painting is a presence. very condensed. When you make a mistake in a painting it's a big mistake! Look at Breughel. more fleeting. But when I make a good painting I drink champagne. I find it very fascinating. not when some piece was sold for a lot of money at an auction. invite some friends over and take them out to a restaurant! When is a painting good? Borremans: When I surprise myself with what I made. A drawing is like literature. the next problem. as a stage it's sacred. categories: interviews * . With a thick frame around it. There are so many paintings we have in our collective memory. His paintings depict more than just a scene. That's when I want journalists to come knocking at the door. sometimes they're an entire world view. Painting has been around for as long as people have. Why not? Borremans: Because the impact of a painting is much greater. Compliments go in one ear. Then it's party time. A complete reality. Aesthetics is a tool.
more often than not the paintings offer little indication of what preoccupies them. film.One at the Time. often discomfiting images of selfabsorbed subjects in indeterminate settings are inspired by photographs. and clothing recall the 1930s and 1940s—Borremans‘s paintings ultimately lack a clear narrative. 85 x 100 cm (33 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. and illustrated books. Rife with psychological overtones and ambiguity. Borremans explained. While his characters appear engaged in actions that require meticulous attention. . Although the aesthetics of these pictorial sources seep into his work—the coloration.) Michaël Borremans‘s mysterious. hairstyles." One at the Time is one of several works in which figures in white lab coats attend to flat surfaces. ―A painting is not just an image: it is an object with a multi-layered character. two men and a woman stare at a cloth-covered table on which three white shelves seem to be floating. 2003. Oil on canvas. magazines.
oil on canvas. 42 x 50 cm .The Box. 2002.
The Angel. 2013 .
The Virgin 2013 240 x 130 cm oil on canvas .
oil on canvas . 2006. 65 x 50 cm.The Storm.
Dragonplant. 31 x 49 cm. oil on canvas . 2003.
oil on canvas .The Barn. 60 x 70 cm. 2003.
The Pendant. 300 x 200 cm. 2010. oil on canvas .
Colombine. 52 x 38 cm. oil on canvas . 2008.
Michaël Borremans: as sweet as it gets 20/02/14. KURT SNOEKX .
the wind-up girl chronicle of Automat (2008). "Come in. viewers find themselves wandering in the disquieting twilight zone between recognition and astonishment that constitutes this artist‘s idiosyncratic world. On the opposite side of an inner courtyard. in between the outside and the interior. the one-size-fits-all of The Devil‘s Dress (2011). we are already spectators of the dizzying visual theatre of Michaël Borremans. Groping. starting on Saturday. drawings. the telekinetic energy of The German (2002). but mind the bunnies!" buzzes the intercom when we ring the bell one chilly winter‘s evening in the Sint-Amandsberg district of Ghent. which contains a hundred paintings. It is as if. and the awe-inspiring . the jet-black face of The Angel (2013). The unconnected flesh of The False Head (2013). you will have plenty of opportunity to tickle your taste buds at Bozar‘s retrospective exhibition.(© Heleen Rodiers) If the stunning yet disturbing work of the Ghent-based artist Michaël Borremans is an acquired taste. there in the courtyard. Easier said than done. and videos calculated to leave your senses reeling. This is "As Sweet as It Gets". the vacuum packing of The Preservation (2001). our unsteady legs have trouble avoiding William and Gordon as they hop around merrily. just one candle is burning behind a large window: as our eyes slowly get used to the darkness. which is now being given a platform by Bozar. with eyes that get bogged down at first and then lose their grip on things thanks to little holes subtly burnt into logic.
tranquility rubs shoulders with lifelessness. watercolor.monotony of The House of Opportunity(2003–2005).0cm.0 x 42.0 cm The Devil‘s Dress. (right) The German (part two) 2002. resistance is total.. There is an air of menace about every canvas. mica foil and transparent tape on cardboard 24. almost casually.8 x 31. pencil. emptiness invites manipulation. 2011 . Simplicity is deceptive. A glitch in the space-time continuum and you finish up on the ropes. The German 2002. Oil on canvas 50. consumed by a dazzling discomfort. every drawing: recognisability is undermined playfully.. white and black ink.
Now. I find it important to let chance play its role. So. not life. . ―A work of art is like a field that is waiting for your input. that we see on the canvas. but I don‘t depict nature. but other things happen in a totally unconscious way. chance plays a major role and you see stuff happening while you work. ―Think or suck.‖ says the drawing of the same name (1999). one experiences an almost unbridgeable distance. Why does a dog piss against a wall? An instinct. Do you create that deliberately? Borremans: I realise that my work both attracts and repels. Then it‘s about recognising those things that are interesting. instinct. nothing. then that distance would be in that painting too. It is part of my identity.In the world of Michaël Borremans. but no. The result of that interaction between intuition and examination is something that is at once very familiar and strange. quite literally. non-thinkers occupy their time. As a viewer. but peculiar. and that is the most exciting thing. clearly present in the here and now.‖ says Borremans. Sometimes I work quite conceptually. If I were to paint those biscuits. light.‖ You enter into a dialogue with the work? Michaël Borremans: Yes. That is ―really‖ working. ―As Sweet as It Gets‖ is the harbinger of something indescribable that consigns that sweetness to history. while at the same time fiercely. that‘s all it is. That intuition that allows you to judge where the balance lies.. But sometimes something happens that takes you to a place you didn‘t know before. Intuition. necessity. while offering a disproportionate display of just how. then it is boring and out of balance. I just paint culture. It can take your work to places where you can‘t get to yourself and make the work transcend the artist. Lovely biscuits. At that moment. actually. very charged and. I subscribe to the idea that the painter depicts nature and in so doing shows his own soul. [Laughs] That is my character. is what makes the difference. who is deeply engaged with material and draws on the rich tradition of painting. I‘m a bit of a no-romantic as well. I paint in the way that is the right way for me to present a particular image.. ―My work has to be very lavish. If a work of art goes too far in one direction and is purely political or is too funny or too sexual. I don‘t do that deliberately. That balance is essential. His ―characters‖ are at the mercy of their maker. but it can make it worse too. It is contemplation. A touch of humour injects some lightness. chance can make your work more beautiful. You have to be able to see that as an artist. Sometimes you work with a clear goal: you have an idea and you want to carry it out. at the same time. I don‘t know. Intuition is important in that context. Why.
2007-2008 Why the frown? Borremans: If I lived in prehistoric times. Fortunately. Is that need there at the moment when you decide to start a painting? Borremans: Each painting comes into being in a different way. I have a fine platform on which I can show my work. but I can‘t concern myself with that. I wouldn‘t know who I am. too. And each work must be special. A career is a tool. that I can‘t make more works than I do and that my works become expensive.. I don‘t want to become a factory. A work of art must always arise from a sort of necessity. That means. I don‘t work systematically: I must always have a reason to paint something.. I would probably be the one . I don‘t work to do people a favour – and I‘ve no interest in a yacht in Saint Tropez. artist by nature. And I am probably an. Sleeper.Without it. I just try to keep my work authentic.
[Smiles] You came to painting late. but how long have you been drawing for? Borremans: All my life. But I have a visual way of communicating. 2004 .who painted animals on the rocks. Everything started to go wrong when we became sedentary. my work is a way of dealing with that. but I couldn‘t help it. My copybooks were full of little drawings in the margins. Lots of people give the impression that they understand everything. I got punished for that. but I really enjoyed it. We are a strange organism. How do they manage that? But I‘m not a misanthrope. I find the implicit nature of imagery more truthful: things aren‘t clear. If I were a writer. yes. Things were going well for humanity back then: there was still a certain harmony with nature then. Then we started growing in numbers and now we are the planet‘s cancer. The House of Opportunity (Im Rhönlandshaft). We don‘t understand anything. but I‘m very philanthropic too. Sometimes it‘s not easy. [Laughs] I wasn‘t exceptionally good. Up to a point. I started as a toddler and I have never stopped. then I would write a book about it.
The whole twentieth century was an analysis of the arts. people had a larger periphery to their gaze. I could devote my life to it! Cinematek has given you carte blanche for a film programme. Van Eyck.How did you finally come to venture the switch to painting? Borremans: The realisation that with a painting you are playing on a completely different stage. Donald Judd. I have been experimenting for ten years now. actually.. in other words. And I wanted to communicate. Very rational considerations. Mr Duchamp. But I thought that my ambitions were too lofty. We have become used to seeing within frames.. As well as Tati. what they saw was more intense. on the other hand. purely out of interest. the entire visual culture is an influence. from a technical point of view. But. The number of images that they saw was smaller. A painting generates much more attention. These days. you can‘t help being influenced by film and photography. That is unique! I think it is really positive that you see all those different things coexisting in art. In the past. Hitchcock. Does film also provide you with inspiration for your paintings? Borremans: Of course. makes more noise. Now the -isms are finished and everything is possible at the same time. and Buñuel. Making paintings is still experimental for me. In sculpture. larger. you have Man Ray. but I keep on trying to improve. are equally trial and error. Those disciplines have had such a far-reaching effect on the way we look at nature and reality. I still do. but. . and more detailed. And my films. which are really suggestions for sculptures or paintings. But also for the love of painting.
preferably in two or three sessions. You don‘t want to break the concentration.(Michaël Borremans. I have periods when I make things very difficult for myself. I shut myself away and don‘t go out at all. but also the medium. With a painting. Automat (I). My paintings happen over a shorter time span. you don‘t want to ruin anything. I . It completely absorbs me. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp .Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp. but I use photography in an unconventional way: the photographs are not an objective. during which I come back to it now and then. Weight. Especially when larger formats are involved. I‘m very focused. In a photograph. David Zwirner New York/London and Gallery Koyanagi Tokyo) For your paintings. but an intermediate stage. Do you work on your drawings and paintings at the same time? Borremans: A drawing is always a lengthy dialogue. then I even sleep in my studio. That is one on one. Borremans: Yes. Then I make sure that I have supplies in and I keep at work until it‘s finished. are important. Sometimes I work on one for three to six months. sometimes a year. That is concentrated energy.Photo © Peter Cox / Michaël Borremans. That aspect of painting. you don‘t see the medium: it is transparent. It‘s difficult to maintain that tension. you take photographs as your starting point. it‘s different: you see the image.Private Collection. I always try to finish off a painting over a number of days. 2005 . because I know that they are really paintings. that history and the mystification that takes place in painting. 2008 . At those times. I see them as embryonic pictures.
Do you find painting a difficult medium? . is not for softies.don‘t want to indulge in self-pity. 2006 . You have to be on the ball. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp . This is top-level sport. I have noticed that my attitude and concentration improved as a result.. What I do. going to mass. Like when you‘re going out or.Private Collection. (Michaël Borremans. in the past. whereas previously you rooted around in the paint like a Jackson Pollock. yeah. It has really brought about a change of style in my work and technique. You don‘t want to get dirty.Photo © Peter Cox) Enter the costumes. so you paint a bit like a peintre seigneur. you feel like an aristocrat who is doing some painting. Suddenly.. 10 and 11. Out of respect for the work. Borremans: I like being sharp dressed while I‘m working. but sometimes it is really rough.
3 x 30 cm As an artist who worked with photographic expression. I could never paint like Chardin.Borremans: [Earnestly] It‘s a very difficult medium. For me. . In that sense. I feel closer to Rubens or Velázquez. 2006. but when everything has gone perfectly in a painting. It only happens rarely. That has a lot to do with your own character and temperament. how you make use of them. mindlessly engaged in some private ritual or task. In his paintings. Yes! That‘s a really good metaphor: making a painting is like building a house of cards: it can collapse at any second. He is much more patient. as if you were building a house of cards. oil on wood 22. and in spirit to the Surrealistic tradition of his native Belgium. he paints very neatly – you can hardly see any brushstrokes. His main motifs are people divorced from reality in a temporal and spatial sense. But that is very fragile. a vague dis-ease permeating the stillness of his images draws the viewer into a deep contemplation. It is especially hard to find the right balance. He has since skyrocketed to fame for work that has been compared in style to early-modern and modern-era artists such as Diego Vélasquez and Édouard Manet. that really gives a kick. Michaël Borremans turned to painting during the mid-1990s. [Surprised] Maybe that‘s why Chardin‘s The House of Cards is my favourite painting. For example. come to think of it. one of my favourite painters. Photos © Heleen Rodiers The Quest. with an energy that gives the canvas a different life. the stroke also has to find expression. who painted with a lot of panache.
Borremans discovered an atmosphere that resembled his own work. Michaël Borremans . during a visit to the Hara Museum. And yet his subjects appear as creatures with a common universal existence. I paint various kinds of people. "*1 In most cases. and are sure to strike a chord that transcends national boundaries. In this place. the artist has limited the output of paintings that he considers finished. saddled with a fate that comes from being human. Such images mirror the difficult lives that many in Japan face today. He has described his attitude as follows: "It must move me. Several years ago. They're more universal. Applying the strictest standards.A Knife in the Eye. *1. 2009. VRT CULTUUR voor CANVAS. http://www. is that Borremans conveys the feeling of another era with a style rooted in the history of painting. his images deftly defy theorization. Also introduced are video pieces which Borremans began producing in recent years. it was originally a place of rest. From an interview of the artist. symbolic metaphors. . at times using old photographs as the basis of his work. but in each case they're important not as portraits of particular people but as general 'human beings'. however. 'a knife in the eye'.artit. As the former home of the Hara family. cut me at a certain point. at times preserving the individuality of his subjects by capturing the uniqueness of their faces."It's not important who they are or what they're doing exactly. One thing that can be said. Borremans was struck by the museum's architectural history and appearance. ART iT.asia/u/admin_interviews/xNYKImdkuo5grM1Jqw8V/?lang=en *2. The desire to hold a solo exhibition there took hold of him from that moment on. It would go on to survive the war and then continue its quiet existence as an art museum. making interpretation difficult."*2 This exhibition of 30-some pieces selected by the Borremans himself thus represents a rare opportunity to become acquainted with the work of this very special artist.
Michaël Borremans has become one of Flanders‘ best-known contemporary painters. I hoped to become a graphic novelist. both the art world and art schools were under the spell of the German-dubbed Neue Wilde (New Wilds).‖ he says.5 cm Portrait of the Artist (already read) After a couple of career detours and false starts. 2003. success and the daily grind. ―I wanted to continue in that direction. acclaimed around the world. Christophe Verbiest Flemish painter Michaël Borremans was resigned to making art for art‘s sake when. When Borremans was contemplating his next move after graduating from secondary art school. But a fear of failure and the prevailing 1980s art mood almost led the Ghent-based artist not to take up painting at all. We visited the artist in his Ghent home to talk art. ―not how to paint with tar or shit. a post-war neoexpressionist art movement. oil on wood 20. success came knocking at his door and made him a darling of the international art scene – just when it dawned on him that ―making it‖ maybe wasn‘t that important.‖ .‖ Instead.Gone. I didn‘t think I had to go to school to learn that. But Borremans wasn‘t interested in that. Flemish painter Michaël Borremans has found his voice. ―I wanted to learn how to paint like Titian.9 x 26. he was determined to absolutely master drawing before doing anything with painting. and critical acclaim in the process. Influenced by American underground comics. unexpectedly.
I wasn‘t worried at first.In the end. but I couldn‘t concentrate on the painting itself. and I do so with great zest.‖ Still.‖ Change of scenery In 2012 Borremans suddenly lost his focus and struggled to regain it. ―I wanted to continue in that direction. explaining that between hitting Brussels and Dallas (in 2015). I was convinced I would never grasp the art of painting. ―The moment I stepped over the threshold. It‘s been almost nine years since a major exhibition was devoted to Borremans in Belgium. ―I‘ve been working here since the mid-1990s. But I found it extremely difficult. ―I forced myself to focus only on painting. At the moment. Bozar director Paul Dujardin suggested he prepare a solo exhibition for them. When I looked at works by others. and Borremans decided to give it one last try. ―first as an adolescent. but that wasn‘t the reason for As Sweet As It Gets. But when it persisted. ―One plus one became three. The artist serves me a cup of jasmine tea in his home in Ghent. the exhibition will travel to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Borremans opted to study printmaking because it included a technical aspect. a retrospective that will later travel to the US and Israel. He was in his early 30s when he eventually began devoting most of his time to the brush and canvas. he was determined to absolutely master drawing before doing anything with painting. he says. After four or five years.‖ His quest led him to an empty chapel owned by one of his friends. Influenced by… Now Borremans is everywhere. I knew I would be able to paint . Art is born from a need.‖ says Borremans. The artist turned 50 last year. And from this weekend. you can visit As Sweet As It Gets at Bozar in Brussels. then again in my 20s. Even his vast living room has sometimes doubled as his workshop. he practised and practised to become a good illustrator. where he also has his studio. he has two exhibitions in Japan. with a third one opening soon. I finally exhibited a few paintings. the itch persisted. since this had happened before. Instead. and you shouldn‘t force it. as they say. And it just so happened that the Dallas Museum of Art approached him about the same thing. And the rest is history. In the following years. ―I gave it a few tries before that. ―I still had ideas.‖ he says. I started to wonder and decided to look for a new space.‖ Instead.
‖ Errors of judgement are part of the work. ―Sometimes I misjudge and paint too small. and now I‘m working here again.‖ Borremans says that. realise that it‘s not good. but he worries when he‘s away from home for more than a week. by the evening. Lately. he‘s not the kind of artist who assiduously works every day and follows a regular schedule. ―My eyesight has deteriorated in the past years. unlike some of his colleagues. ―It often happens that I work on a painting for a full day and.again.‖ Until a few years ago. and when the fire breaks out. ―I can‘t paint when I‘m lying on a beach. I need to prepare myself mentally. or vice versa. that physically need those bigger dimensions. For instance. I sometimes force myself to wait a few days before realising it – until I have to paint. start all over again. Whereas before. ―I envy artists who are able to do this. this kind of approach carries consequences.‖ He says he enjoys travelling because it gives him ideas. in my studio.‖ He‘s candid about this but adds that there‘s also a more important. the next day. I learned from experience that trying to correct errors generally leads to an even worse painting. ―I‘ve been working on compositions that ask for larger canvasses. I can surpass myself. It‘s like running a race: The more mistakes you make. By using larger canvasses and bigger brushes. often of less than 50 x 50 centimetres.‖ Borremans stresses that the situation isn‘t as unequivocal as it sounds. but I have to wait for the singular moment that my energy and focus culminate. .‖ While imperative for the artist. he has surprised audiences with much larger canvasses of up to 3 x 2 metres. I have to be here. In such moments. the majority of Borremans‘ pieces were relatively small paintings. I worked very intensively there. fundamental reason. It‘s as simple as that. Art dominates Borremans‘ life. the artist says. I have a better view of what I‘m doing. my themes often needed intimacy. when I‘ve made up my mind about a painting. the smaller the chance you‘ll win. ―I‘m like a firefighter – always on standby. Then I clean the paint from the canvas and. The explanation for this evolution proves to be surprisingly mundane. For a year. To get there.
I live in this day and age and use the means that are available. knocked at my door.‖ Borremans‘ works almost always begin with a photograph. I‘m taking photos. a colleague of his at the school. I‘m already painting at that point. I had already accepted my fate when success. stylistically. and I realised after a while that it‘s not the most significant goal. he adds: ―I think you can already see the essence of my oeuvre in the early works. ―I don‘t see this as a retrospective of my whole career. props. much more important. That‘s normal. it might be the world‘s error. he looks at his computer screen.‖ Borremans admits.‖ It‘s only when that knowledge dawned on him that. and convinced that he had a great career before him. and I‘m more enthusiastic about my recent work. ―In my mind.‖ Borremans worked as a teacher at the Secondary School for the Arts in Ghent for more than a decade before his work began to make waves. to the point of arrogance. he adds: ―Can you imagine me saying: ‗I used to make great works. they‘re more primitive. ―Making those drawings gave me great satisfaction. ―That‘s true. a couple metres away from my easel. ―It‘s an essential tool. he stages a scene and subsequently takes multiple pictures of it. no?‖ Laughing. Being able to create the work you want to is much.‖ When he ultimately begins painting. He didn‘t expect it anymore. painter Luc Dondeyne. but that‘s not the case anymore‘?‖ Becoming serious again. unexpectedly. With a remote control. First drawings that spread his name in small but important art circles. For him.‖ . but.‖ he says. ―But it didn‘t happen. ―And I was thinking: If I can‘t share them with the world. he says. Last year.Almost all the works on view in the Bozar show were created after 2000. explaining that as a young student he was very ambitious. The photos don‘t look like photos but more like paintings. and later paintings that built his international reputation. told Flanders Today: ―I remember the moment he became a star in the international art world. I think that as a painter I have evolved and keep evolving in an interesting way.‖ he explains. he started to create ―good work‖.‖ And Borremans sees art-historical precedent for this. decors and costumes. ―I‘ve tried to make ‗a best of ‘. I can zoom in on details.‖ Using models. ―Where painters before used to make sketches as preliminary studies. it was quite a surrealistic experience. ―It‘s really positioned where a model would be.
EVOCATIVE IMAGERY A detail from Borremans' The Swimming Pool (2001). However.His laughter fills the room. June 02. however. One of his best-known paintings. using . The Peasant Wedding (1567). currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Borremans. a child in the foreground sneaks a gulp or two of spirits. For while the adults obliviously indulge in food and drink. there is always more to a work of art than meets the eye. In the European North. it is frequently realism with a twist. she won‘t fall for you. features a humble wedding feast where food and wine are abundant. the guests and the bride and groom are clearly enjoying themselves. Sixteenth-century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel painted highly detailed. a prolific 42-year-old artist from Belgium. ―It‘s like with a woman. often depicting debauchery and corporal excess. * REALISM WITH A TWIST Questioning the nature of reality with Belgian artist Michaël Borremans by LYZ BLY Wednesday. mundane scenes of peasant life.htm Throughout the history of the art of Northern Europe. underlying the joyous scene of fun and revelry is a message about self-control.newsenseonline. there has been a tendency toward earthly realism. creates fastidious drawings in subtle tones. responsibility and moderation. Such is the case with Michaël Borremans' drawings. 2005 http://www. If you go after her too aggressively.com/l_FT_2005_06_02.
The effect created by the sundry-sized people is interestingly disconcerting. In The House of Opportunity (The Chance of a Lifetime). Borremans also toys with the idea of artistic illusion by truncating highly detailed figures so that they take on the form of portrait busts or legless portrait sculptures. In The Journey (True Colors). welltailored jacket is rendered in camouflage.‖ and which are contrived elements of architectural models. clearly.‖ and which are models. But his trim. ―You are one yourself. and the architectural model is displayed in a large. there is a range of human figures of all different sizes. The Swimming Pool depicts a young white man's face and naked torso being painted with the statement. the artist wrote in script. far removed from reality. Borremans frequently distorts the sense of scale in his drawings. Conman is a drawing of a well-groomed white man straight out of a 1950s magazine advertisement. a white male figure is seated before of large-scale model of a simple architectural structure. his drawings have layers of personal and cultural meaning and symbolism. And.‖ And below the word. Borremans' imagery is evocative of contemporary events. ―People must be punished. ironic wit is ultimately apparent. we are used to identifying with human figures in works of art. The man's flesh appears lifelike. while the human subjects of his works are reminiscent of Western white men and women from the 1940s and '50s. which appear to be bullet holes. Beneath the drawing of the camouflaged everyman is the word ―conman. The scale of the human figures shifts as the drawing series progresses. The artist's droll.watercolor. causing the viewer to question which of the humans is ―real. Borremans recognizes that as viewers.‖ The ambiguity of the term ―you‖ makes it unclear whom Borremans is labeling a con man — himself? The viewer? Or is he underscoring the treachery of the man in the drawing? The interaction between viewers and Borremans' drawings is never straightforward. and he undermines this by making it unclear to us which of the figures in the drawing are ―human. nondescript building. this is the brilliance of his work. gouache. as miniature human forms pepper the tabletop around the model. which have recently often been tied to the body. Like the work of his predecessors. yet no blood seeps . yet his legs have been cut off at the hip. the subject matter frequently relates to current events. and the man peers intently through binoculars. pen and ink as his media of choice. all drawings are simply representational.‖ Beneath the phrase are four holes in the young man's chest.
as with Friendly Rivalry. it is also imperative that we do so. From a distance. The mood evoked by the work is apt. as he creates rich scenes with subtle gray-and-black hues. given the contemporary global political milieu. it is also sobering and at times disturbing. the image of the men. like Borremans' drawings.from them. and the constant flow videotapes of hostages in Iraq begging for their lives at the feet of their captors. At times. 10 November 2011 Various ways of avoiding visual contact with the Outside World using yellow isolating tape. the dimly lit galleries in which the exhibition is mounted exacerbate this effect. interspersed with the occasional ruddy red or cool blue. He is a master of watercolor and ink. complex and unfathomable. appears to be a photo clipped from an old newspaper. they are also stunningly beautiful. Michaël Borremans. Created in 2001. formal suits and rapt expressions. His suffering becomes spectacle. While the work is stunning. Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery. who wear starched. this scenario is all too familiar. which depicts two white men engaged in a sort of game or competition with an unidentified phallic object or weapon. While it is difficult to examine the things that cause anguish and anxiety. 1998. the drawings have a photographic quality. unfortunately. the drawing is eerily prescient in light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The scene is made even stranger by a swimming pool full of miniature people who stare at the young man as if watching a movie at a drive-in theater. Borremans' drawings are not only smart. And. the world we inhabit is multilayered. Antwerp .
Carnadines (details). 2001. Private collection. 2002-5 Four Fairies. Los Angeles The Present. 2003. Inv. 2011. Antwerp . Courtesy Zeno X.
Drawing. 2002 .
2002 Private collection Twenty-Thee Metaphors. Belgium .Kit-The Conversation. 1999 Courtesy J. St Gallen Proposal for a wall and ceiling decoration. Bonheiden. 2001 Courtesy Hauser und Wirth.Morrens.
Antwerp . 2003 Courtesy Zeno X. 2003 Courtesy The Judith Rothschild Foundation The House of Opportunity (The Chance of a Lifetime).In the Louvre – The House of Opportunity.
time and history themselves also play a crucial part: he often derives inspiration from newspapers. books. Borremans thus very consistently keeps to the very thin line between reality and historical illusions that is so characteristic of his work. Like his painting. they are a way for Borremans to reflect. In fact. magazines and photographic archives from the first half of the twentieth century. Borremans‗ drawings introduce the viewer to a sombre universe in which solemn-looking characters. Antwerp Michaël Borremans is a Belgian painter who has always made drawings. to set the imagination in motion. and to elaborate ideas or projects which will probably never be implemented.The Swimming Pool. unusual close-ups. In addition. and unsettling still lifes cohabit. * Enigma Variations Michaël Borremans explores the potent significance of painting and drawing with grim humour and surreal clarity . 2001 Courtesy Zeno X.
sunless palette is both lush and weirdly austere. decapitation and severed hands. porcelain figurines and telescopes. permanently stuck in what could only loosely be described as a futuristic 1930s or ‘40s. The Pupils (2001). shelves. He also has a lighter side. For . oil on canvas. the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans‘ preoccupations include sausages. torsos and butter. full of oily. one that enjoys a well-shaped bow on a well-cut dress. laboratories. his fleshy. clarity and simplicity live alongside extreme confusion in Borremans‘ pictures. a place where a dark humour tugs at a melancholy upper register. The time of year in his paintings and drawings appears to be winter. isn‘t so unlike everyday life. cheese and modified mouths. Nothing is consistent in these meticulous hallucinations: even time is confused. skin and milk. Blank-faced men and women stilled forever in a state of inscrutable self-absorption inhabit skewed environments where a beautiful lack of logic is rendered with the precision of a bureaucrat with a penchant for poetry and punishment. 70x60cm Like a cryptic murderer with a hearty appetite.Michaël Borremans. In other words. Which. as descriptions go. hair. shadowed browns and exhausted greys.
1995). a woman examines a ceramic salami with forensic care (The Ceramic Salami. To commemorate the occasion the bust was paraded through the streets. have seemed more remarkable had I not spent the previous few hours looking at drawings with titles such as 24 Chopped Heads Pronouncing the Word ‗Kaas‘ Simultaneously (1999– 2000) or Various Ways of Avoiding Visual Contact with the Outside World Using Yellow Isolating Tape (1998). 2001).000 virgins) was returned to the city after a long exile in Russia. Borremans‘ take on the absurd is very particular. a rainy medieval town with a dark past and a difficult present: it was occupied by the Germans. can be very good at simply reflecting back what is. art. 2001). more recently. an obvious. perhaps. Since the war this small kingdom has had to deal with the repercussions of post-colonialism and. with a multi-layered character‘1 – it is difficult not to conclude that the recent history of both Ghent and Belgium has influenced his perception of the human condition as being shaped as much by illusion. although many of Borremans‘ images portray chillingly dehumanized scenarios. This would. bombed by the Allies and accused of collaboration. in fact. He was born 18 years after the end of World War II. in degrees and variations. with the growth of right-wing political parties and xenophobia. the busts of three orphans are delicately arranged on a shelf (Three Orphans on a Shelf. they can also be gruesomely funny: rendered with the matter-of-fact precision of drawings from a Boy‘s Own adventure magazine from 60 years ago. the resounding lack of reason that daily permeates our seemingly ordered lives. illogic and cruelty as by fair-minded reason. Walking back to my hotel through the reasonable Swiss lanes. supposedly alongside 11. Even so. if appropriate. However. a sketch for an enormous public monument includes severed penises being sucked by severed heads (Think or Suck. young men in neat haircuts and uniform coats examine the faces of a row of decapitated heads (The Pupils. where I discovered that in 1955 a reliquary bust of St Ursula (who died in Cologne in the 4th-century. The tragicomic mood of such odd couplings is both tempered and exacerbated by the sense of indifference that emanates from perpetrators and victims alike – which only serves to emphasize the .example: on a recent trip to Basel to see an exhibition of works on paper by the artist I visited the local Kunsthistorisches Museum. followed by 364 local girls called Ursula. and now lives in nearby Ghent. 1999). in Geraardsbergen in Belgium. Although Borremans is reticent about ascribing precise meanings or readings to his work – he has said ‗a painting is not just an image: it is an object. thought struck me: that a measured approach to lunacy isn‘t simply the prerogative of art.
and possibly sinister. intentions of well-dressed men – men whose hearts are possibly as dead and as difficult to read as a star‘s. obviously. They see something. dramatists and artists into science‘s cold laboratory. contemplating the empty space in front of them. antiquated Photorealism. incomplete women/fairies allude not only to the 20th-century‘s state-condoned cruelties but also to the unresolved tension that still . however. which in this case have sprung not yet whole from the medium of their own making? The title of the painting again adds another dimension to its reading. Before the 20th-century fairies were variously perceived as the symbolic leftovers of a displaced people. But of what? Of war? Of our all too human failing to see each other as complete? Or is the painting simply a reiteration of what painting can do – raise fictions from oil paint. where their existence was disproved and so infantilized. overwhelms the almost photographic realism of their depiction – like Surrealist monuments. Their patient faces are painted with near-reverent delicacy. these passive. fallen angels. tactile softness. The scene is unfathomable. the women are oblivious to the fact that they are severed in two and are arranged on a simple dark surface like sick trophies. that we are not privy to. yet here the heavenly canopy has been made redundant by the ambiguous. heathen dead or the unconscious made flesh. pale yellow and creamy white paint depict a sober room of men in suits standing to attention beside a table. elegiac washes of brown. for example. In Four Fairies Borremans has. resurrected a debilitated symbol to serve its original purpose as a hybrid indicator of dispossession or dislocation. in a sense. on which are arranged the deadpan torsos of other men and a single faint outline of the bust of a schoolgirl reading a book. ghost-like strokes and are less tangible than others. The title of the painting points its meaning into a more particular direction: for centuries it was commonly believed that constellations of stars influenced events. Similar in mood is the painting Four Fairies (2003). so real. which portrays three women and one young girl. So far. the period evoked a time in Europe when the most unimaginable of crimes were planned in elegant rooms over tea. their clothes executed with a concentrated. Painted in the manner of an exquisite. one thing. what could be more nightmarish than a populace oblivious to either its own pain or the pain it inflicts on others? In Borremans‘ painting The Constell-ation (2000).pictures‘ bewildering atmosphere. dressed and coiffed in the fashion of the 1940s. In the 19th-century photography propelled them from the imagination of folklorists. after all. some of the figures are painted in loose.
the manipulations of power and the inviolable enigma of painting – is expressed. a magazine or a second-hand shop – often prompts the composition of a painting or drawing. the woman holds . and thus the experience of looking at it is nailed to the present. dismissive of its present state. Again and again people dressed like lab technicians examine blank surfaces: two women in white coats scrutinize an empty table-top in The Table (2001).exists between photography‘s will to truth and the potentially mythic and imaginary dimensions that painting might still explore. the only words visible are ‗the time of …‘. two men and a woman – who. He is fascinated by the fact that. it is constantly reinvented in the mind of the viewer. In One at the Time (2003). He is. such as Luis Buñuel. but much – especially a horror of didacticism. a particularly impenetrable painting. say. its relationship to history at best suggestive. One of painting‘s attractions for Borre-mans is that its descriptions are illusory. Cinema has also been for Borremans what he describes as a ‗suggestive element‘3 – especially the work of directors who explore the vagaries of expressive potential and human contradiction. Like stills from a nonexistent film. again in white coats.‘2 His influences are obscure church pictures. Borremans‘ images free-float in an endlessly deferred imaginary space in which nothing is resolved. however. declaring ‗I don‘t like most contemporary painting. Borremans trained as an etcher and photographer). a Sisyphean world of endless. In The Saddening (2001) three women. various artists from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century. apparently futile endeavour in which the enigmatic gesture of. unusually for the characters in Borremans‘ paintings. and Surrealism (I suspect he admires its followers‘ ability to reflect on reality while remaining clear about their own confused status within it). Not all of Borremans‘ pictures describe cruel scenarios: many combine a benign thoughtfulness with descriptions of bizarre and seemingly meaningless responsibility. A large proportion of what is currently being produced is quite bad. A photograph – one he has taken himself or found on the Internet. sit writing on what appears to be a large blackboard. The difference between the way he employs his source material and the finished product obviously lies in painting‘s rejection of narrative. a hand might echo the enigmatic nature of painting. Andrei Tarkovsky and Alfred Hitchcock. even when a painting was made a long time ago. Which is not to say that the artist rejects photography outright (in fact. are black – are again dressed in white coats and stare impassively at a cloth-covered table on which seem to be floating three white shelves. which he then manipulates to his own ends.
It is my way of dealing with reality. in Conman (2003) a man with binoculars wearing a camouflaged cardigan gazes off into the distance beneath the inscription ‗Conman. resists the platitudes and quick conclusions so familiar to a society spoon-fed on what the artist describes as ‗the deformed picture of reality‘ inflicted on it by the mass media. who is having his chest inscribed with the words ‗people must be punished‘. torture and – overwhelmingly – the indifference of crowds.6 The hushed sepia-saturated universe he so unnervingly describes may be made up of illusions that mirror our own back on ourselves. However grim or ridiculous the scenario. old book covers. which. aspects of modelmaking. their sensitivity and subtlety verge on the beautiful. yet with his . It is a kind of escape: when I feel uncomfortable in certain situations. of history) becomes dizzyingly complex and unstable.a small. on envelopes. like elaborate doodles. You are one yourself‘. flat white shape in her hand. but it‘s a beauty that appears suspicious of its own good looks. which. for example. doppelgängers. I have no systematic plan. the painting itself as much a land of tricks as a military map. Similarly. in The Present (2001) a woman tenderly dribbles into the open mouth of a severed head in box. gouache. pencil and occasionally coffee stains. in The Swimming-Pool (2001) people frolic in a swimming-pool oblivious to the giant blank-faced man above them. each of Borremans‘ pictures celebrates the still potent and complicated cultural significance of painting and drawing. photographs and pages from notebooks and calendars. Many of them reveal a technical skill accomplished enough to evoke a wrinkled lip or a faint blush in a face smaller than a child‘s fingernail. Apparently this series was based on a photograph from an ‗illustrated magazine published by the US military forces after World War II‘. at its best. Borremans has stated: ‗When I draw. in A Mae West Experience (2002). a giant model of Mae West overwhelms a tiny crowd deafened by the loudspeakers embedded in her body. with a job we know nothing about. that is different when I paint. of viewers. of artists. which are busy.‘5 The ‗multi-layered‘ character of his images is perhaps even more complex in these ferociously delicate. journeys. once again. I create my own reality. are made with watercolour. often tiny images.4 The commingling of ideas of power and perception here (of armies. In this sense the artist divulges a great sense of play. They tend to describe proposals for crazy monuments. ink. their gazes focused on their hands. I consider drawings mostly as autonomous works of art … I can‘t live without drawing. in the series of paintings and drawings ‗Trickland‘ (2002) figures kneel in a gloomy model landscape.
35 Jennifer Higgie. ‗Michaël Borremans: People Must Be Punished‘. 93 6 Jeffrey D. ‗Opaque Gestures: Michaël Borremans‘ SelfForgotten Painting‘. 3 Ibid. 2004. 1 Peter Doroshenko. p. Grove. Ostfildern. Hatje Cantz. 14 x 11¾in . Cologne. 53 5 Doroshenko. Ostfildern. THE TYMPANON PLAYER (2). 4 Hans Rudolf Reust.evident horror of authority Borremans offers no concrete alternative – save. 93 2 Ibid. in Michaël Borremans: The Performance. the implication that alternatives are as much the responsibility of the viewer (of art or of history. or of the scene outside their own window) as they are of the artist. 2000. Hatje Cantz. p. 2005. ‗Interview with Michaël Borremans‘. co-editor of frieze. oil on canvas. in Michaël Borremans: The Performance. p. of course. 2005. in Michaël Borremans Drawings. Walther König. p.
olieverf op hardboard. oil on masonite. 52 x 45. 11 3/8 x 11 1/8in SAD GIRL.TERROR IDENTIFIED (LOVE UNLIMITED): COLUMBINE. glas. hout. 1996. 1998. enamel.6 x 9 cm . stof.
. 23 x 30 cm. 2000 "Terror Watch" (2002). Pencil and watercolor on paper.THE TYMPANON PLAYER.
in which exhibitions. addressing rather the conceivable than the realizable. irony and disturbance are all closely interwoven within his visual worlds while simultaneously precluding one another. .Michaël Borremans. reality and scenery. or cinema. drawings. performances. Eating The Beard Introduction From February 20 to May 1. 2011 the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart is presenting a comprehensive solo exhibition with over one hundred works by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. the moral and the abysmal. theater. Again and again things end up bypassing each other. which are frequently small-format and intimate. Museum. and the controllability of the world. They are teeming with contrary references and allusions that offer the viewer a multitude of possible interpretations while avoiding any manner of consolidation into a coherent whole. drafts of stage design or projects for public space. which the artist presents to us with its wealth of instability. or monuments are much too large to be adequately viewed by the miniscule onlookers. Alongside paintings. Other drawings in turn seem to reflect storyboards for films. or public spaces are negotiated as showplaces in which the positions of the observer and the observed are continually shifting. hark back to positions and genres from art history as well as to the pictorial languages of photography. In contrast with the frequently busy scenarios found in his drawings. In his works. there will be a series of new works that are being exhibited in Germany for the first time. control and loss. They show model worlds which emerge as an image within the image while being observed by giant spectators or depict people who are immersed in the acts modeling and constructing or in peculiar experiments. by formations and deformations. The scenarios composed by Borremans in his pictures. and filmic works from the past ten years. Borremans traces the contradictions and conflicts of human existence: between self-assertion and dissolution. theater. desire and angst. freedom. Realism and the fantastic the transient and the manifest. the individual and the collective. Being shown are illusions of identity. The paradoxical pictorial spaces of his drawings are permeated by contrary perspectives and proportions.
In fact. human figures from varying angles: isolated beings who establish a relationship neither to their pictorial surroundings nor to the viewer. strange hybrids between people and furniture or other objects. this reference is explicitly clear. their veiled faces reminiscent of death masks. Borremans focuses on the body immobilized by the image. but without dealing merely with formal ―translations‖ between the mediums. allude to corpses laid out for view. The exhibition is to be accompanied by a catalogue published by Hatje Cantz Verlag. Repeatedly.‖ and ―finished work. and filmic works are strongly interlinked.Borremans‘ paintings all resemble still lifes. his filmic works also emanate a feel of the still life. he probes the margins of the various mediums. one of his recent large-format paintings. in most cases. thereby referencing the foundation for the Western body image starting in Renaissance times: anatomy. Following the presentation at the Württembergischer Kunstverein. The minimal actions of the protagonists seem to be mechanical. The characters appear disengaged from all temporal or spatial contexts.‖ ―preliminary study. or absurd—the backgrounds and consequences of which remaining completely ambiguous. or with geneses among ―draft. almost as a reference to the filmic apparatus itself. appearing as objects in vitrines. they execute gestures or actions—at times banal. In The Nude (2010). whose illusionary effects are concurrently reversed. the it will travel to the Kunsthalle Budapest (Műcsarnok). Against this backdrop. in which there seldom seems to be any activity going on—at least if we encounter them with the customary expectations of film images and filmic narration. Got Lost A piece by Helmut Lachenmann With costumes by Michaël Borremans Staatsoper Stuttgart (zeitoper spezial) in cooperation with the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Venue: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Michaël Borremans work is posited between mediums in visual arts and neighboring disciplines. in turn.‖ Instead. Others. though they in fact are showing. body fragments or their shells. paintings. his exhibition in Stuttgart has lent an occasion for unique collaboration between Borremans and composer Helmut Lachenmann. having come to fruition thanks to the . meaningful. Borremans‘ drawings. At the same time.
initiative of Xavier Zuber.5 x 9.. "The spirit of modelmaking" (2001). This event will not only be taking place in the exhibition and in dialogue with works by Borremans. Pencil and watercolor on paper. .0 cm.got lost..4 x 30. Pencil and watercolor on cardboard. Three evenings will see a special performance of Lachenmann‘s piece . 27..2 cm. 12. "The Reference" (2007). head dramaturge at the Staatsoper Stuttgart... the artist has also designed the costumes for the performance.
"Pony" (2009). oil on canvas. 2002. 50 x 40 cm. Oil on canvas. The Shirt. 16 1/2 x 19 5/8 in .
his source materials. unequal power relations and oppression. the flaws. http://www. clinical and uncanny situations charged with deformity. the turmoil. a glass of champagne. all of this weight is ultimately counterbalanced by a heavy. ideally. Forcing the viewer to deal with philosophical questions about rituals of interpretation and meaning. Charged with the same surreal.Whereas in his small-scale drawings. his paintings and more recent minimalist film works mostly focus on human beings devoid of individuality. bittersweet chuckle and a thick puff of smoke – and when it lifts. It is this lack of clarity. Self-taught – although he calls Baroque portrait master Diego Velázquez his teacher – he keeps returning to the human figure and the sometimes unbearable weight attached to human existence: the fears. the terror. free will or clear missions in life. in his free hand. and an ongoing quest to find new ways to create illusions. and painfully so. his tekeningen. whether found or not. the more things become unclear. are the starting point for an open-ended dialogue with his artistic forbears. the futility. this perpetual state of suspense that makes his work endlessly captivating. unsettling and almost ‗Lynchian‘ quality (Borremans‘ Trickland is especially reminiscent of Benjamin Horne‘s futile endeavors). universal types he initially found and ‗borrowed‘ from old magazines and other media have by now made way for intricately planned and highly detailed scenarios the trained photographer shoots first with actual models and then translates into the unique figurative language he employs as a painter.net/t/278136/soon-a-title-here/840 . he often creates larger scenarios. Luckily.styleforum. this cloud of smoke. Borremans is already gone. The futile tasks carried out by the generic. and the tragedy. off to create the next set of illusions. the more layers and dimensions he adds. a reflection on the various traditions of his media.
62 X 15. oil on canvas.01 cm) people must be punished .83 X 40.75 in (49. 19.Coat.
'The swimming pool' 34. Our attention is diverted from the horrific act that goes with this because we only see the scars. pencil.0 x28. watercolour on cardboard. while the perforation of the chest is replaced by the carving into . They look like bullet holes.2 cm. though on closer inspection they appear rather to be carved out of marble with a sharp chisel. It is only when we realize that this aggressive act is obscured by the replacement of the chisel with a brush that we are struck by the fact that there are holes in the chest too. but their positions at the corners of a square remind us of the screws with which a marble or copper memorial plaque might be attached.Borremans Michaël. 2001 INNOCENT Our eye is attracted as if by a magnet to that enigmatic brush that seems to be delicately writing letters on the bare skin.
liberated from its guilty act. This whitewash is accomplished in that the gaze that looks down from this heights unexpectedly descends into the body of the spectator on the swimming pool down below. The sense of this inflation only becomes clear to us when we understand that the transition from doing to looking does not remove the guilt. ultimately looks down from a gigantic body. the guilty hand .remains as an image on the rear wall of a swimming pool. The fact that the culprit vanishes outside the frame points out to us that this event is drawn on a screen in a picture. This painting hand in its turn diverts our attention from the painter who. now freed from its guilty hand. raises itself with superiority above what is occurring. and this by the real artist who looks down on the closed space beneath him from a higher vantage point . through the eyes and with inactive arms. the innocent activity of the swimmers. on which the gaze. itself now disguised as painting on the skin which the victim can now undergo without complaint. On the contrary: the piercing and chiselling under the cover of painting . hidden from view outside the picture. to watch. chisels onto his victim the verdict that is surely more applicable to the painter himself. So the rejection of the guilty hand is accompanied by a telescopic outward surge of the space: the isolated hand remains on a giant screen in the background of a swimming pool down below.though life-sized . while the gaze.note the box he has sketched in the border above the drawing: In this space.the flesh.
"people must be punished".Nietzsche's Vielzuvielen .celebrates its triumph in the optical dimension.into insignificant earthworms. After all. their misdeed is limited to their sheer existence. the counterpart to the inflation of the artist to the almost cosmic proportions of a supreme observing god. 2011 . © Stefan Beyst. Only then do we realise how unfounded it is to legitimize the act of punishment by the behavior of those being punished . September 2013 THE DEVILS DRESS. So the words chiselled in red letters on the chest verbally belie what is visually presented. in the reduction and multiplication of that one victim on the giant screen to wriggling ants in the swimming pool: the deflation of the countless masses .
Each work is a distillation of the flow of time and light.5cm Michaël Borremans takes on an ambitious challenge in the form an exhibition devoted to a singular subject. oil on canvas 36.―Girl with Hands 2‖.3x30. . This is also accompanied by a new moving image work upon the same theme. 2013. with 8 paintings of girls attending to their handiwork. inducing a sensitive relation between the viewer and the depicted figure.
in finance capitalism. In previous forms of capitalism -. The structure and development of financial markets and the art market mirror each other.com/forum. ―Business art is the step that comes after Art. When the overall economy moves from industrial and consumer . this relationship has been transformed by the appearance of a new form of capitalism: finance capitalism. wealth is created by circulating signs backed by nothing other than other signs. by contrast.agricultural. As Andy Warhol declared almost four decades ago. the rate of circulation accelerates and the floating signifiers. When investment becomes more speculative. so increasingly abstract financial instruments become an autonomous sphere of circulation whose end is nothing other than itself.‖ During the past several decades.nomenusquarterly.php?page=2 Art and money have always been inseparable.IS MODERN FINANCE RUINING MODERN ART? BY MARK C TAYLOR http://www. proliferate. As art becomes a progressively abstract play of nonreferential signs. however. industrial and consumer -people made money by buying and selling labor and material goods. which now constitute wealth.
9 billion. the real seems to have become virtual and the virtual appears to be real.3 billion to $54. this market more than doubled. had become the world‘s dominant economic and military power. With increasing economic prosperity. honorary chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern Art. the two leading auction houses. whose collection and exhibition had long been limited to the church and aristocracy. This astonishing growth was fueled by emerging markets in Russia. Not only had the center of the art world shifted from Europe to New York.S. This phenomenal growth in the art market was not limited to the U.S. art. In 2006. Christie‘s International and Sotheby‘s. Warhol‘s artistic appropriation of the images and icons of consumer culture put on display both the machinations of consumer capitalism and commodification of art that was so vigorously promoted by the burgeoning gallery system. the system implodes and the real returns. There are three stages in this process: the commodification of art. The price of individual works escalated as quickly as the purported value of the financial securities with which they were being purchased. When Warhol proclaimed art to be business and business to be art. he was acknowledging the overwhelming importance of postwar consumer culture. reported combined sales of $12 billion. the corporatization of art. But even Warhol could not have anticipated the explosion of the art market by the turn of the millennium. art undergoes parallel changes. and the financialization of art.capitalism to finance capitalism. India and the Middle East. and more than two dozen galleries were doing $100 million in sales annually. purchased Gustav Klimt‘s ―Portrait of . Ronald Lauder. became the social marker for individuals aspiring to rise above the middle class. The work of many of the most influential artists of the era both reflected and promoted American values and power at home and abroad. but the U. China. Virtual Versus Real At the end of these interrelated trajectories. According to reliable estimates. by 2006. from $25. Global capitalism created a global art market. But just when the circuit seems to be complete. From 2002 to 2006. the private art market had reached $25 billion to $30 billion.
remarkable craftsmanship characterizes Koons‘s art. Just as Warhol. Neither Koons nor his art gives any hint of the irony and parody that lend Warhol‘s art its edge.6 million. reacting to abstract expressionists.can be understood in two ways. His exquisitely crafted works have become precious objects whose worth is measured by their rapidly rising exchange value. What began in Warhol‘s Factory in the 1960s ends in Koons‘s factory.the corporatization of art -. Unapologetically embracing banality and freely admitting his ignorance of art history. There is. which was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. a few enterprising artists have transformed the corporation itself into a work of art. One year later.or part-time advisers and consultants to develop their collections. The next stage in the development of the art market -. removed hand from work. Koons sounds more like Joel Osteen than Marcel Duchamp: ―I realized you don‘t have to know anything and I think my work always lets the viewer know that. Jeff Koons‘s ―Hanging Heart‖ sold at auction for $23. so Koons further mechanizes the means of production. First. a critical difference between Warhol and Koons.‖ he once told a reporter. In many cases.‖ What is surprising is how many seemingly intelligent and sophisticated people have been taken in by this erstwhile stockbroker.Adele Bloch-Bauer I‖ for $135 million. which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a single painting. where his cast of assistants fabricates whatever he imagines. in the past two decades. Having learned his trade on the floor of commodity exchanges. their history. High and Low . and their potential. Flower Puppies Koons is the poster boy for this frenzied commodification of art. ―I just try to do work that makes people feel good about themselves. Koons‘s art is crafted to reassure. Second. While Warhol‘s work unsettles. Koons does not move beyond the commodification of art. many major corporations have appropriated the age-old practice of attempting to increase their prestige by purchasing and displaying art. and more interesting. however. Whether pornographic figurines or cute flower puppies. companies hire full.
corporate image consultation. ―GEISAI. cell-phone holders and even $5. the goals of this enterprise ―include the production and promotion of artwork. In ways that are not immediately obvious.this aside from the production of art objects. mouse pads. general management of events and projects. Murakami dubbed his for-profit corporation a work of art. and the production and promotion of merchandise. As the artist and photographer Walead Beshty has observed. key chains. ―the delirious intricacy of Murakami‘s unrepentant entrepreneurialism‖ is hard not to appreciate. today‘s overheated art market can help us understand the recent collapse of the overleveraged global . In 2001.000 limitededition Louis Vuitton handbags. the production of tangible goods is increasingly displaced by the invention of intangible products. advertising agencies and leading corporations. toy manufacturing and high fashion -. ―© Murakami.‖ at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art included a fully operational Louis Vuitton boutique.‖ which allows clients (young artists) to exhibit their work for a fee. His ability to mold productions (and services) to varying scale into an ornate constellation is as mesmerizing as his willingness to almost selflessly dissolve his own business complex. the management and support of select young artists. As financial capitalism expands. advertising company and a talent agency. His 2007-2008 exhibition. Having formed a hybrid of a media corporation. One of the primary functions of this novel entity is the organization of a biannual art fair in Tokyo. But he has also expanded his artistic practice to create a commercial conglomerate that is functionally indistinguishable from many of today‘s media companies.‖ The products marketed range from more-or-less traditional paintings. he created Kaikai Kiki Co. Murakami collapses high and low by appropriating images from popular culture to create oversized sculptures and his signature ―Superflat‖ paintings. According to the company website.‖ Yet Murakami‘s corporatization of art does not express the fundamental economic transformation that has taken place since the late 1960s.. Kaikai Kiki‘s ―tentacles extend into a network of alliances spanning the entertainment industry. This is as true in the art market as it is in the stock market. sculptures and videos to T-shirts. Like Warhol and Koons. which currently employs some 70 people.The most interesting example of the corporatization of art is the work of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
however. Each week brings another account of a newly rich hedge-fund manager buying art at a ridiculously inflated price. Speculators in the art market have recently established hedge funds and private equity funds for the purchase and sale of art. rather than as a consumer good. Speculative History Speculating in art is not. in a rising market the value of the derivative increases relative to the collateral on which it is based. the location and ownership of the painting have remained a mystery. of course. Saito‘s financial empire had fallen apart. The investment game changes significantly when art is regarded as a financial asset. Though few have made the connection. As we have seen. By 1993. the value of art assets has often risen faster than the value of real estate or financial assets. Take the example of mortgages. he secured it in a climate-controlled vault where it remained for seven years. This preoccupation with ―celebrity‖ collectors. In one of the most intriguing investment schemes in recent history.economy. This investment strategy treats art like any other commodity purchased for speculative purposes. since the early 1980s. mortgages have been securitized as collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) so that they could be bought and resold in secondary and tertiary markets. of course.5 million. . Immediately after taking possession of the painting. developments in the art market have been following the changing investment strategies in financial markets. Gachet‖ in 1990 for the then-record price of $82. The global growth in the art market parallels the worldwide spread of finance capitalism. Since his death in 1996. In recent years. been driven by the exponential increase in wealth among those who benefit most from the new financial system. This growth has. These funds extend the principles of finance capitalism to art. Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito purchased van Gogh‘s ―Portrait of Dr. While the value of these derivatives is supposed to be determined by the value of the underlying asset (the price of the real estate). new. They manage their art collections in much the same way they manage their portfolios. obscures a more interesting and important development: The titans of finance capitalism are also transforming the art market through the financialization of art.
insofar as investors hedge bets by using portfolio theory. or several works of art.. has established Fine Art Management Services Ltd. With this practice. for example. Like investors in CMOs.S. so works of art are bundled and sold as shares of a hedge fund. charges an annual management fee equal to 2 percent of its assets and takes a 20 percent cut of profits once the fund clears a minimum hurdle. what matters is the statistical probability of its price performance within a specified time frame relative to other portfolio holdings.With the growing volatility of financial markets. investors in art hedge and privateequity funds know nothing about the actual artworks in which they are investing. When mortgages are bundled and tranched. . creating a quasi-autonomous sphere of circulating signs in which value constantly fluctuates. In other words. Bloomberg‘s Deepak Gopinath explains Hoffman‘s strategy: ―Melding art and finance. the derivative drifts farther and farther from its underlying asset until the virtual and the real seem to be completely decoupled. for example. Treasuries or gold -. who know nothing about the actual real-estate holdings whose mortgages they own. Just as mortgages are bundled and sold as bonds. an investor owns an undivided interest in a group of art works. In these schemes. derivatives (fund shares) and underlying assets (works of art) are once again decoupled.and collect hedge-fund-like fees in the process. Investors in art funds could conceivably sell their shares. Furthermore. investors attempt to hedge their bets by trading derivatives using different variations of portfolio theory. art funds aim to trade Picassos and Rembrandts the way hedge funds trade U. Hoffman‘s Fine Art Fund. London financier Philip Hoffman. which speculates in art rather than stocks. what is important is not the real value of the company. the value of any particular work of art is determined by its risk quotient relative to other works of art held by the fund. rather than owning an individual work of art. the evaluation of risk has nothing to do with the value of a particular asset but is calculated using mathematical formulae to determine the statistical probability of defaults of the underlying mortgages. thereby creating secondary and tertiary markets. As trading accelerates.‖ Bundling Artworks This strategy securitizes works of art in the same way that CMOs securitize mortgages. Some enterprising investors are applying this model to the art market. commodity or artwork.
in fact. satirizing or criticizing the market from which he nonetheless profits so handsomely. Hirst mounted his own sale at Sotheby‘s in London at the precise moment that global financial markets were collapsing. death is unavoidable. idealistic philosophers and romantic poets were forced to reconsider the interrelation of religion. While this argument is plausible in the case of Warhol.This financialization of art is a genuinely new phenomenon that even Andy Warhol could not have predicted. The notion of modern art and related ideas of the avant-garde emerged in Germany during the last decade of the 18th century. Critical Edge There are. One year later. some critics who argue that Hirst. has lost its critical edge.‖ The financial machinations surrounding the sale of this work were as complex and mysterious as a high-stakes private. is. the art of Koons and Hirst. A newspaper editorial in 2007 observed that Hirst ―has gone from being an artist to being what you might call the manager of the hedge fund of Damien Hirst‘s art. like Jeff Koons. artists . The most prominent representative of the financialization of art is Damien Hirst. it is clear that this unlikely event marked the end of a trajectory that had been unfolding since the end of World War II.equity deal. In the wake of the failure of the French Revolution. corporatization and financialization of art represent the betrayal of principles and values that have guided artists for more than two centuries.‖ The most ostentatious example of his strategy was the production and marketing of his $100 million diamond-studded skull ironically titled ―For the Love of God. The commodification. then the age of finance capitalism deserves the carcass of a rotting shark that no amount of formaldehyde can preserve. When religion and politics failed to realize what many imagined as the kingdom of God on Earth. If each era gets the art it deserves. and far from impossible. predictably. like the critics who promote it. ―The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living‖ harbors a lesson worth noting: Reality might not be completely virtual after all. who is notable for his creation of works of art specifically designed for new financial markets. Though the sale was an enormous financial success. art and politics.
the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans is showing films that unfold at a radically slow pace. The opinions expressed are his own. the collapse of finance capitalism creates the opportunity for a reassessment of values that extend far beyond money and art. Turrell. If. This is the second of two excerpts from his new book ―Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys. Their tableau-vivant images could be mistaken for stills but for a flickering light or a figure‘s discreet breathing. which more than two centuries later continue to shape our world. is best known for paintings that engage past masters like Manet and Goya—but the haunted characters who inhabit them display a distinctly . God and the imagination are -.) Originally published by Bloomberg Media * INTERVIEW: MICHAEL BORREMANS by David Coggins In his current exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York. art can redeem the world. Taylor is the chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University.and philosophers fashioned new strategies. the market seems to be omnipotent. When the artist becomes a commodities trader. corporatization and financialization of art subvert the artistic mission that the 18th-century German critic Friedrich Schiller memorably described as the desire to transform the world into a work of art. We no longer know what to believe or whom to trust.one. The commodification. Though profoundly unsettling. by refiguring the spiritual. The crisis of confidence plaguing individuals and institutions is a crisis of faith. the bubble bursts and everything must be re-evaluated.‖ to be published March 20 by Columbia University Press. however. corporate executive or hedge-fund manager. Borremans. Perhaps. born in 1963. With asset values rising at an unprecedented rate. criticism gives way to complicity in an economy that absorbs everything designed to resist it. But just at this moment of apparent triumph. At such a moment. Barney. art might seem an unlikely resource to guide reflection and shape action. Goldsworthy. (Mark C. omniscient and omnipresent. then perhaps art can create an opening that is the space of hope.as Wallace Stevens insisted -.
his first there since 2006. They appeal to your consciousness in a very open way. While painting. My interest in film has always been there since I was young. The rhythm is very important—they have to be as slow as breathing. It‘s something I think about. DC Your paintings have such a physical quality.contemporary unease. I had the feeling that I needed a different element of light or movement. A filmed image has another quality—you use lenses. DC Because the films are very slow. My work is an answer to that. I‘m experimenting in the way I show them—mostly on an LCD flat screen which is framed. All the imagery of the 20th century and earlier is baggage we have to deal with. I can‘t agree to it because they‘re really not meant for that. That an artist lauded for his skill in painting and drawing should turn to the more impersonal surface of the cinematic image is a noteworthy shift—one that we addressed during my visit to his expansive studio in Ghent in January 2009. like going in and out of focus. You can get some painterly qualities even though it‘s another language. DC So you can manipulate the cinematic qualities the same way you can manipulate the surface of a canvas or of paper? MB Yes. Do your films likewise refer to a cinematic history with its own traditions and allusions? MB I don‘t refer to these things intentionally—the references are there in all my work. . That‘s why the films are so unusual. so the images are grainy. When people ask me if they can screen the films publicly. I use actual film [not video]. Mb Yes. it has its own poetry. you use lights. so the film is like a framed work. Was it hard to give up that painterly surface? MB Not really. as he was preparing for the Zwirner show. What can people who only know your paintings expect to see? Michaël Borremans I‘m showing a couple of older films. a dialogue with that. so I started experimenting. for example. DC In your paintings. Add and Remove  is based on a painting from my first show at David‘s gallery. I‘m interested in cinematic esthetics. and this frame is wooden. There are references to the history of art that are not specific. you make references to the history of the medium—to Manet and Goya. David Coggins Your new exhibition features a number of recent films. as if they were prey to an uncertain fate. but the way I approach it is like painting. But the work is still more painting than film—the medium is film. What I try to do with films comes out of the paintings. The Storm  is a 35mm projection of a live image.
People have compared your work to Beckett‘s. There is a tension. That‘s why you have these tiny figures. Do you think that your work deals with the absurd so overtly? MB The actions are often senseless. or don‘t make sense. That makes them durable. who you‘re so conscious about. DC There‘s a mystery in your paintings that a viewer wants to solve. for recognition. Could you address scale. but also in warfare. My last show at David Zwirner [―Horse Hunting. Is there a tension that you‘re looking for? MB There‘s a dichotomy—there are two poles and you‘re in between them. With the paintings. But the work switches between an aspect of the absurd and a romantic connotation. because the figures are familiar. In the drawings I use that a lot and make references to models. to test things. like Manet. In our society we use models to try things. DC And he appeals to you as the beginning of modernist painting? MB He‘s an interesting figure because he‘s seen that way. But at the same time he‘s also the last classic painter. You invite people in but make an image that‘s ultimately unreadable. in your work? MB Scale is for reference. The model as a metaphor for our actions is very appealing to me. your paintings can be very large and your films are often projected life-size. you provoke a kind of anarchy in the image. but you seem to resist that expectation. like a vanitas. and that aspect is just as important. they‘re like a presence. at first you expect a narrative. scientists use models. but it can‘t be solved. The images are unfinished: they remain open. but it‘s not a game—it‘s like research. That the .DC With anyone in particular? MB Not really. MB You can look at the films for two seconds or watch them straight through. DC Can you discuss the difference between narrative in painting and in film? In film we generally expect something to happen. DC You often portray people carrying out activities that are fruitless. DC Like an architectural model where a figure shows the scale? MB Yes.‖ 2006] was really an intentional dialogue with Manet paintings like The Dead Toreador and The Execution of Maximilian. ADVERTISEMENT DC Your drawings deal with figures that are extremely small. like in architecture. But then you see that some parts of the paintings don‘t match. The works don‘t come to a conclusion in the way we expect them to. By playing with that and making it unclear. and shifts in scale. But of course there are figures you pick out.
But you still can‘t quite place them in a certain era. of things the figures are waiting for and can‘t see. It‘s very strange. I heard that the work was nostalgic. It‘s also why I sometimes paint porcelain figures. It‘s just there. They‘re archetypes. Do you try to make them seem universal? MB Yes. I used to make images that were based on photographs from the 1930s or ‘40s. InThe Storm it‘s just three people waiting. they serve the painting. In an image you want to provoke—but I try to balance the painting. and now I usually work with models who pose for me. That‘s why I choose very unsaturated colors. I find them in paintings—I have a great interest in 17th-century portraits—but I don‘t want to refer to a specific artist or era. They have different elements from art history. So it‘s an artificial environment.‖ like in the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Is that another thing that just happened. or something that‘s beyond their control. and that was absolutely not the idea. DC Do you think it‘s possible today to make paintings that are not about . they‘re not individuals. DC You said that your figures are not individuals. The light is flickering. DC There‘s a feeling in your work of invisible power. MB I try to show figures—I don‘t want to use the word ―individuals‖. like those based on the commedia dell‘arte. or did you set out to achieve it? MB Part of it is intentional. DC You have a very restrained palette in your films and your paintings— like Dutch still-life paintings.human being is a victim of his situation and is not free is a conviction of mine.‖ whatever that might be. with a certain light—I call it my ―Earth Light Room. MB That‘s true—but I don‘t do that intentionally. I never use black. I have a room in my studio where I photograph them. I try to place them in a space that is familiar yet undefined. It‘s a room that‘s anonymous. So I try to avoid that. DC You sometimes include people in costumes that refer to World War II. I made my latest film Taking Turns  there as well. Everything is mixed out of color but the colors don‘t play a starring role. Now I‘m also having costumes made for my models so that they look more universal and more indefinable. I like portraying mankind that way. but that was too recognizable. where they have an ―Earth Light Room. Elsewhere they‘re in modern dress. They‘re just sitting there breathing. I try to enrich them by being non-specific. Overpowering colors create a language that‘s not useful to me. It‘s a completely still image of people sitting on chairs in costumes of shiny white that looks like the satin fabric in 17th-century paintings.
The work you refer to with the shoes—there I intentionally made the work in opposite order. like Pink Shoes (2005). You know you‘re dealing with film. in the other I did the reverse. there are more similarities between painting and film than between painting and photography. Film itself is more and more rarely used for documentary purposes— everything is electronic or digital. Now film is about storytelling. DC Your show in London at Parasol [―The Performance. It has become a medium that is not transparent—like painting. though it wasn‘t like that when it was invented. Today film is more like painting than ever before. I make paintings because my subject matter. like painting. I hate to do it. so I don‘t trust it [laughs]. I never buy paper. Is it difficult to shift back to making something by hand? MB I try to draw from time to time. DC Is it surprising that you‘re making films? MB To me. DC So will you be making more films? MB Yes. DC You‘ve made diptychs that at first appear to be two paintings of the same thing. The other is more opaque. But somehow I‘m losing interest in it. to a large extent. DC You‘re going to be working on drawings in Rome this spring. like a technical experiment. I work on found paper that doesn‘t look too artistic. But I can then have two results that I‘m happy with. You know you‘re dealing with an artifact. The medium is not free from that—it‘s very loaded. You need to be organized.painting? MB That‘s very hard. you need a crew and so many things can go wrong. So one is translucent—though you really have to look carefully. But film has a language of beauty. That‘s why I show them together. is painting. Taking Turns went very smoothly. but it‘s a terrible process. but I have to do it. painting was about storytelling. When I have a subject I want to paint I don‘t succeed in painting it well enough all the time or the way I want it. My sight is getting worse. I can use it for my own purposes. That‘s why they use it for commercials. three. It‘s very appealing. So sometimes I paint the same thing two. Is that a form of questioning truth or how well we know what we‘re looking at? MB Those paintings are very different. with an artificial image. With a photograph you look at the image without seeing the medium.‖ Parasol Unit . In one painting I did the background first and then the trousers and then the feet. Before film. four times before I‘m happy with the result. I like to work on a piece of paper that has a history that I don‘t know.
like Manet did. Of course what we do is quite different. It‘s taken more seriously and in a different way. like your compatriot Luc Tuymans? MB I‘m a big fan of his. DC And when you think of filmmakers that you admire—you mentioned Kubrick before—do you look at anybody in particular? . intimate works. It‘s kind of sinister. though even small work can dominate a wall. MB One thing that‘s clear with Richter is that he‘s gotten better and better. his portraits of his family. He doesn‘t think about it—he just paints. If I show too much. it‘s the men who go to war. In drawing. but I don‘t understand why—it‘s really impressive. 2005] looks a little bit like a pop music group. you can formulate all kinds of ideas. who are fighters. MB Painting is like a stage. DC What about living painters. are astonishing. to your last show at Zwirner. He‘s so confident when he paints. MB That‘s a strange painting. everything collapses—one work kills another. It‘s easier with the films. It‘s fine to install one or two pieces or a small show. Women are softer. Because they‘re soft again. which included a painting that was 20 feet tall. it‘s like an overload of sugar. His latest work got criticized. One painting [The Appearance. where the work was fairly small. His simple. I always prefer to show less work than more. This creates a strange interference in the psychology of male figures. He‘s an important painter and a very good one. to make something more interesting. DC The Bodies 3  is a painting of two people in bed sleeping. You notice his marks. The men in the bed have pillows behind them. Now his work is really sublime. sometimes in unexpected places. the whole show dealt with that. I like to refer to popular culture. 2005] was hung in a very personal way—different things at different heights. They give you the shivers. MB It‘s very difficult to install my paintings. Drawing is very different—it doesn‘t have the weight of painting. The combination of paintings and film gives you an opportunity to play. I wanted to refer to death and playing dead. but in painting there‘s a statement.Foundation for Contemporary Art. and it‘s very hard. in 2006. DC It was surprising to go from the show at Parasol. In the history of painting. DC You and Gerhard Richter are both painters who deal with photography. Psychologically. But it doesn‘t seem very restful. I really wanted to use painting like a stage. It‘s the same when you install a big show. So there are a multitude of references. But I‘m putting together a book on all the paintings. All the actors in the paintings [in the 2006 Zwirner show] are masculine.
His intuition is perfect. Legs and hands: . and the film really needed that. It‘s so raw.2007]. New York [Feb. 25]. His latest one is great [Inland Empire. Michaël Borremans‘s exhibition ―Taking Turns‖ is on view at David Zwirner. 24-Mar. Also.MB I look at David Lynch. shot on video. We have some similarities—like the way he tries to show something we cannot solve because it‘s against our nature. as a filmmaker he‘s a great painter.
Upon entering the first space. the gallery (519 West 19th Street) has been divided into two relatively equal spaces. The harsh light of a naked bulb alters the shot by modifying the intensity of the shadows moving imperceptibly on the surface of the wall. In Taking Turns. The films are shown alongside the exhibition‘s five oil on canvas paintings: The Apron. For this exhibition. are sitting slumped in chairs in the corner of a white. the three figures from The Storm reappear. The Load (III). three black men. The Storm. 60 x 80 cm. empty room. The second gallery space introduces an intimate presentation of two other 35mm films. The Load (II). reaching close to 15 feet in height and 23 feet in width on the gallery wall. 2005. In The Feeding.The Bodies (I). In the film. a 35mm film projector shows a loop of The Storm as a large-scale projection. Earthlight Room. and Taking Turns. The Feeding and Taking Turns. wearing identical cream-colored uniforms (a mix of work clothes and stage costumes). both which have been transferred to DVDs and viewed within wall-mounted wooden frames. standing around enormous reams of white cardboard that give the impression of levitating above a table covered with a spotless cloth in the middle of a room. Borremans has created five new paintings and is presenting three films: The Feeding. The Load. a woman holds the torso of a life-sized . Oil on canvas For the current show at David Zwirner.
mannequin, and slowly moves and spins the torso on top of a horizontal surface. There is an ambiguity between what is real and what is artificial, as their two faces and figures overlap and rotate in the film‘s frames. Once again, the theme of the double, or the doppelganger, is a device encountered throughout Borremans‘ oeuvre. Formally and thematically, Borremans‘ films are closely related to his twodimensional work. They are shifting ‗tableaux vivants‘ with poetic titles, in which the artist very gradually, with subtle camera work, creates an oppressive atmosphere. He uses a fixed camera position or deliberately zooms in on certain details of the scenery, body parts, faces, or clothing. With slight light-dark fluctuations, flowing edited shots or the repetition of certain actions, Borremans builds up a gripping but subdued suspense.
Michael Borremans: drawings
This exhibition combines two travelling shows by the Belgian artist Michael Borremans (b. 1963), one of drawings, the other of paintings. Michael Borremans (b. 1963, Geraardsbergen) is meticulous and guarded when it comes to his drawing. He meticulously creates insinuating drawings, and guardedly sees to it that no one is able to read any allembracing intention into these drawings. He has the same distaste for the
story behind the illustration as for ‗the distortion of reality with which the mass media bombard us every day‘.
In his drawings, Michael Borremans regularly reflects on contemporary mass culture. In his small drawings he brings the viewer face-to-face with the ‗historical illusions‘ that underlie present-day society, and shows us the deceit and indifference of the world around us. His work is concerned with the illusions he perceives around him, illusions about political choices, personal freedom and the individual‘s ability to act in this complex world. In order to communicate the illusions to the viewer as clearly as possible, he lards his drawings with a beguiling aesthetic and a degree of provocation. Explicit references to art history and cultural tradition play a very important part in this. His drawings include a variety of genres such as the portrait, the bust, the death mask, the monument and the memorial. In addition to this he also refers to those places where works of art are
He sees them as a sort of proposal for interventions or installations in public space. he prefers to ‗limit‘ its execution to a model. He makes regular use of early sources of images on which to base his drawings. In addition to these aspects of Borremans‘ drawing.usually shown. This contrast between reality and fantasy is also expressed in Borremans‘ own perception of his drawing. the question of reality and illusion runs like a thread through these drawings. the museum or public space. Borremans uses images that are available in massive numbers. Lastly. time and history themselves also play a crucial part. which makes the work seem in a way sincerely retrospective. seeking . In addition. he also reflects on the different ways of staging art that were developed in the course of recent art history: the diorama in the 19th century. He may for example show the clothing and hairdressing fashions of the time. This is clearly to be seen from the fact that in his drawings he regularly portrays the viewers themselves as small figures on pedestals. Borremans again and again concerns himself with the distance between what we call reality and artistic fantasy or imagination. and magazines and picture books from the thirties to the fifties. and the large video projections that one encounters at the present time. Borremans thus very consistently keeps to the very thin line between reality and fantasy that is so characteristic of his work. At the same time the age and aesthetics of these sources of images seems to be transferred to his drawings by means of the colours too. almost artificial representatives of the work‘s real viewers. The execution of these drawn preliminary studies will however never reach the stage of ‗actual‘ reality. which he finds either in their original form or on the Internet. such as the studio. Since he invariably classes public interventions as ‗acts of aggression‘. In most cases they are 19thcentury photographs. By playing with this idea as such. photography before the digital era.
He uses almost any sort of material as a possible support for his work. In terms of form and style. the backs of old photos. His typical shades of brown and grey tints are suited to the ‗old‘ patina that is always inherent in the material used for the support. watercolour and white ink. in order to continue correcting and deepening it layer by layer. and that they can never be fully understood simply on the basis of the present context of drawing. and the artist repeatedly allows his drawing hand to return to the surface itself. In terms of material and appearance his drawings are highly suggestive and intuitive. Like the work of his compatriots James Ensor. which the artist incorporates into the drawing. Borremans reveals his affinity for the Northern tradition of miniature painting and the drawings of the old masters. The choice of this sort of material emphasises the fact that the works have not grown out of nothing. Borremans‘ drawings display quite explicitly the influence of his former studies in printmaking and photography: they evolve very slowly. a cultural tradition. He draws on torn-open envelopes (with postage stamps still attached). Only a very small number of drawings are done only in pencil. With the exception of gouache and oil paint (to which he invariably adds a patina). Here at the SMAK. Each support has its own history and displays the pronounced external marks of it. Borremans‘ hand reveals the surrealistic tendency to avoid logical associations. Borremans usually draws with pencil. The content underlying these formal choices also demonstrates very clearly Borremans‘ roots in the Belgian painting tradition. Museum für Gegenwartskunst. In this way he is also emphasising his affinity with history. sometimes set off with white mounts with a perfect diagonal cut. and the problems of the present day. This sense of something past is accentuated even more by the way Borremans chooses to show his works: in modest wooden frames. pages from calendars. and it has already been shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel. the remains of picture mounts. Félicien Rops. covers torn off books. Each drawing is meticulously composed. René Magritte and Thierry De Cordier. Working cautiously like this. The initiative for this exhibition of Michael Borremans‘ drawings came from the Kupferstichkabinett Basel. and so on. the exhibition has been supplemented by a selection of Borremans‘ .out his own pictures and thereby succeeding in bridging the gap between the awareness of an historical past.
Grove. which are displayed on the ground floor. the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland. with articles by Anita Haldeman. Ohio (USA). however. Ohio (USA) and the SMAK in Ghent. This internal complexity is already expressed in the choice of the seemingly simple titles that Borremans gives his paintings. One of its most representative artists is Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). Beneath this seemingly clear imagery and unambiguous content lies an impressive. Such words as The Pupils. but when combined with the image they accompany. Borremans‘ handling of this theme is however on a more philosophical and abstract level. which on the one hand can work as a guide and lead to a deeper insight into the painting but on the other can actually encourage the sense of wonder. who tried to capture the purest state of human existence in disturbing images of the society of the time. Geraardsbergen) appear straightforward and convincingly realistic. The Barn. In autumn 2005 the exhibition of drawings will move on to the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland. Nothing could be less true. On a slightly closer examination of the paintings one realises that the brushstrokes. 1963. The book and the exhibition are coproduced by the Kunstmuseum Basel. confusing and odd world which shows itself to be increasingly mixed up the longer one looks at the paintings. not only please the eye but are also intended to provoke the viewer. A catalogue will be published to accompany this exhibition. applied with great talent.paintings. His paintings are frequently populated by almost dehumanised figures who perform absurd minor actions in an . but a sort of internal world in which several strange elements complement and/or contradict one another. Belgium. Michaël Borremans: drawings At first sight the small paintings by Michael Borremans (b. In order to understand Michael Borremans‘ paintings better. give rise to a sort of double deception. where he greatly accentuates the absurdity of human existence. they have to be seen in the context of the ‗humanist‘ tradition of painting. Museum für Gegenwartskunst. What one observes here is not a purely narrative scene. The Performance and The Preservation seem simple. Peter Doroshenko and Jeffrey D.
He rarely uses white to achieve this. is halfway between the coolly analytical and the sensitively poetic. The only real activity in the painting is the cool grey-white light that focuses on the figures and makes them stand out more. he nevertheless considers painting as a purely artificial art form. He manipulates his characters in an artificial world which nevertheless appears realistic. Borremans also raises questions regarding the medium of painting itself. typified by the porcelain figures that adorn the windowsills of many Flemish houses. In contrast to that particular artistic tendency. Borremans takes this contrast between reality and fiction to extremes by introducing ‗alien‘ elements. The intention is to capture the viewer‘s gaze for as long as possible. but more often colours ranging from cream to grey. Another fertile source is his fascination for kitsch. skilful and figurative painting style. who seem to have lost all freedom of choice. Borremans deliberately tries to give his paintings a sort of sexy allure. By choosing these media. in which it is impossible to get close to actual reality. Although he paints only figuratively. This light. which makes it more difficult for the viewer to project realistic or narrative associations into the works. soaps and television series. but at the same time they suggest a sort of still detachment. which greatly increases their attraction for the viewer. to some extent similar to the spirit of 19th-century Romantic painting.entirely imaginary world. The choice of subjects rarely has any specific intention but is . Michael Borremans focuses entirely on the human figure and human existence itself. which summons up feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. so that he will automatically start looking for the deeper abstract thematic content of the painting. This means that although they are in themselves aesthetic. By emphasising this artificiality. thereby actually reducing them to pawns of some sort. as far as their themes are concerned the paintings are actually abstract. which is created by Borremans‘ subtle and almost sensual brush strokes. combined with his extremely sensual. This painted environment in which the characters move remains almost completely anonymous and is rarely elaborated in any detail. which pictured the insignificant and doubting human in overwhelming landscapes. As a result these pictures radiate a warmth that is often to be found in old paintings. The sober and highly distilled composition of the picture area makes it seem that the figures and objects live in a ‗still-life world‘. Borremans draws inspiration for his work from both older media such as dated photos from the Thirties and Forties. figurative and thus accessible. and more recent sources such as films.
The Conciliation–II. The SMAK is therefore the only place where the two exhibitions can be seen at the same time. This exhibition of drawings was compiled on the initiative of the Kupferstichkabinett Basel. and has already been shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel. 25 9/16 x 19 11/16 inches. This exhibition of paintings by Michael Borremans runs parallel to the exhibition of his drawings on the first floor. In autumn 2005 it will also be shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland. In the course of 2005 the exhibition will move on to the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art in London and to the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. . Ohio (USA). Museum für Gegenwartskunst.usually determined by chance. Oil on canvas. 2002.
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