Hauser & Wirth to Present ON THE FABRIC OF THE HUMAN BODY at Frieze New York, 5/9-12
Attempting to achieve the most lifelike portrayal of the human figure, Renaissance artists of the 15th and 16th centuries became self-taught anatomists by necessity. Later, in the 17th century, anatomy lessons became organized events, held in lecture rooms that served as theaters for the students who assembled for demonstrations. The general public, transfixed by the wonders and terrors of the body, were permitted to attend upon payment of an entrance fee.
Centuries later, artists continue their avid exploration of the corpus. Organized by curator Gianni Jetzer for Hauser & Wirth's stand (B7) at Frieze New York, the exhibition On the Fabric of the Human Body focuses upon the ways in which Rita Ackermann, Louise Bourgeois, Isa Genzken, and Paul McCarthy have expressed their affinity for the human body in works of astonishing feeling. While artists in the past quested for accurate, literal depictions of bones, tendons, veins, and organs, the body in contemporary art is freed from such scientific implication. It is instead an open field for artistic interpretation, having radically overcome the distinction of René Descartes, for whom the ideas of mind and body represent two opposing natures that are rigidly dissimilar from one another. In the work of these artists, the body is artistically reinvented, transformed into anecdotal evidence; it is an independent, thought producing "thing," a fiction in its own right.
The heart consists of chambers and valves. Venous blood is pumped into the lungs, while oxygen-rich arterial blood is sent to the brain. In anatomical renderings red and blue are commonly used to show this circulatory flow. The two colors form a strong antithetical relationship that bears the weight of innumerous connotations. The spatial organization of On the Fabric of the Human Body mimics the heart's chambers organized by colors; it sets up the hollow, muscular organ as an inhabited theater-like stage, enlivened by a plot, props, and actors.
Welcoming passersby, Isa Genzken's mannequins are humanoids devoid of flesh and blood. Draped in a blue cape, the sitting figure 'Untitled' (2012), is frozen in time. Often dressed in Genzken's previously worn clothes, her mannequins replicate life-size anatomical depictions of the human body that, nevertheless, uncannily draw attention to its absent fleshy form.
Louise Bourgeois's late gouache paintings illustrate her preoccupation with the relationships of family, with coupling, pregnancy and child rearing. In works such asTHE FAMILY (2008) figures are depicted with pendulous breasts, swollen stomachs, the red color bleeding out of their bodies. Their emphatically sexual characteristics are reminiscent of sculptures Bourgeois made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which the human body was reduced to a limbless form - a woman portrayed only by her belly, breasts, and neck.
Paul McCarthy's debased and dirtied photographic subjects possess a unique history; they began as props in his early performances. In the 1990s, McCarthy individually photographed each of these prop-objects, creating 'PROPO', a collection of documentation-style images that serve as a record of the artist's dark humor and subversive social critique. In 'Candle Erection 1991' (2012), the remains of a birthday celebration are displayed erect and aroused. Two new paintings by McCarthy further radicalize the art historical tradition of the beheaded figure. 'The Head Of W.S.' and 'The Head Of W.P.' (both 2014) evocate transgressions of domestic violence rather than a fall from grace.
In Rita Ackermann's seminal work 'World War III Around My Skull' (1996-97), venous and arterial bloods erupt in a sanguine palette across the canvas. Vigorously executed in ballpoint pen, a spectrum of chromatic reds complement hues of suffocating blues. A collage of images drawn from popular culture are layered over a central hollow figure: different bunker-like monuments, massive and introverted; a skull-head; an occlusion with pointed dents recalling graphics of battlefields or weather charts; the melancholic face of a clownish character; and the head of a horse screaming in despair. Engaging rage, chaos, and fear, the work's intensity evokes the fluttering palpitations of the human heart. In the more recent 'Fire by Days' paintings, Ackermann's bodies are transformed into an immaterial state. Ethereal figures in cool blues or burning reds hover above the canvas like genies released from bottles.
Hauser & Wirth
Frieze New York
Randall's Island Park
New York City
Photo Credit: Rita Ackermann
Fire by Days XVI (detail)
Oil, spray paint and acrylic on unstretched canvas
353.1 x 264.2 cm / 139 x 104 in
© Rita Ackermann
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth