Pregnant Woman, 1971
Oil on canvas
40 1 /8 × 60 1 /4 inches (101.9 × 153 cm)
Alice Neel (1900-1984) is widely regarded as one of the foremost American figurative artists of the twentieth century. As the avant-garde of the 1940s and 1950s renounced figuration, Neel developed her signature approach to the human body. Working from life and memory, she created daringly honest portraits of her family, friends, neighbors, art world colleagues, writers, poets, artists, actors, activists, and more. Her paintings, which are forthright and intimate, engage overtly and quietly with political and social issues. Neel's ability to depict those around her with unfazed accuracy, honesty, and compassion displays itself throughout her canvases. Calling herself a "collector of souls," Neel is acclaimed for not only capturing the truth of the individual, but also reflecting the era in which she lived. Here, Neel depicts her daughter-in-law Nancy—the wife of her oldest son, Richard, whose face appears on a canvas in the background. Painted just before Nancy gave birth to the couple's twin daughters, the present work is the second nude portrait that Neel made of her while pregnant
Oil on canvas
78 3/4 × 39 3/8 inches (200 × 100 cm)
Marlene Dumas is widely regarded as one of the most influential painters working today. Over the past four decades, she has continuously probed the complexities of identity and representation in her work. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1953, Dumas moved to Amsterdam in 1976, where she has lived and worked since. Her paintings and drawings, frequently devoted to depictions of the human form, are typically culled from a vast archive of images collected by the artist, including art-historical materials, mass media sources, and personal snapshots of friends and family. Gestural, fluid, and frequently spectral, Dumas's works reframe and recontextualize her subjects, exploring the ambiguous and shifting boundaries between public and private selves.
The present work is a haunting, life-size group portrait of girls abducted from Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014 by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. The group, vehemently opposed to Western education, attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, kidnapping an estimated 276 students. Arranged in rows and depicted in headscarves and long robes, the girls appear here as they have in a number of videos released over the years by Boko Haram. Dumas's inventive handling of paint and color, including highlights of indigo and lavender, allows many of the girls to retain an engaging individuality in the face of their ongoing confinement.
Fire from the Sun (Two Figures, One Hand)
Fire from the Sun (Two Figures, One Hand), 2017
Oil on canvas
80 3 /4 × 110 1 /4 inches (205 × 280 cm)
Michaël Borremans's (b. 1963) innovative approach to painting combines technical mastery with subject matter that defies straightforward interpretation. His charged canvases address universal themes that seem to resonate with a specifically contemporary relevance.
The present work belongs to a series collectively titled Fire from the Sun, which features toddlers engaged in playful but mysterious acts with sinister overtones and insinuations of violence. The children are presented alone or in groups against a studio-like backdrop that negates time and space, while foregrounding the theatrical atmosphere and artifice that have come to characterize the artist's work. Reminiscent of cherubs in Renaissance paintings, the toddlers appear as allegories of the human condition, their archetypal innocence contrasted with their suggested deviousness.
As Michael Bracewell argues, the paintings in this series portray psychological states that are not intended to be decoded. Viewers of Borremans's work are "caught in a strange time loop, in which the nobility of execution ascribed to Old Masters…is placed in the service of vertiginous modernist vision…the scenes depicted by the majority of paintings comprising Fire from the Sun show a state of being or society in which the primal is uncontrolled, without bearings, in a state of anarchy—the Id of Freudian primary process run riot, with no Ego to mediate between instinctual behavior and 'reality'…The art of Michaël Borremans seems always to have been predicated on a confluence of enigma, ambiguity, and painterly poetics—accosting beauty with strangeness; making historic Romanticism subjugate to mysterious controlling forces that are neither crudely malevolent nor necessarily benign."1
1 Michael Bracewell, "Michaël Borremans: Fire from the Sun," in Michaël Borremans: Fire from the Sun. Exh. cat. (New York: David Zwirner Books, 2018), p. 47.
Golden Couple, 2018
Oil on linen
77 × 70 inches (195.6 × 177.8 cm)
Widely associated with a re-emergence of figuration in contemporary painting, Lisa Yuskavage (b. 1962) has developed her own genre of portraiture in which lavish, erotic, angelic, and at times grotesque characters are cast within fantastical landscapes or domestic spaces. Seamlessly blending contemporary cultural imagery and classical pictorial language, Yuskavage marshals color as a conduit for complex psychological constructs. As Christopher Bedford describes, Yuskavage's paintings "are disarmingly present, even naked in their address, laying themselves bare for inspection not because they are exacting and slavish in their depictions, but instead because they hold little if anything back. Yet for all their nakedness, the worlds depicted are just that—worlds—and they are fundamentally distant from our own. The strength of the invitation to look at these paintings and what, in turn, they extend in exchange is exactly as forceful as the world of meaning and implication that is palpable in every brushstroke, yet just slightly out of reach. This collision of clarity of presentation and elusiveness of meaning constitutes [their] central, beguiling axis."1
The present work is an example of Yuskavage's "couples" paintings: charged depictions of often interlocking, interdependent male and female figures. These works developed out of the artist's series of "symbiotic" portraits, which, beginning in the early 2000s, paired two female figures to invoke a sense of a dual manifestation of a single personality. In the present work, the two partially dressed, larger-than-life-size figures nearly fill the canvas, seemingly enshrouded in a golden haze that expands outward from the quilted wall behind them and encompasses the entire painting. The work is structured by the man's implied movement toward the woman, who leans back, hiding what appears to be a playing card or other object behind her back. Posed between the two figures, the woman's wine serves as a compositional balance, at once acting as a horizontal level for the canvas, while, with its deep burgundy color, providing a contrast with the golden glow of the painting.
1 Christopher Bedford, "Color Theorist," in Lisa Yuskavage: The Brood - Paintings 1991-2015. Exh. cat. (New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2015), p. 13.
Oil on canvas
78 3 /4 × 98 1 /2 inches (200 × 250 cm)
Neo Rauch's (b. 1960) paintings are characterized by their distinctive combination of figurative imagery and surrealist abstraction. His enigmatic compositions employ an eccentric iconography of human characters, animals, and hybrid forms within familiar-looking but imaginary settings. While each work is started without a preconceived idea of the finished result, there is a uniquely recognizable, visual coherence to Rauch's overall oeuvre. Paintings often display palettes of strong, complementary colors, and recurrent subjects include the seamless integration of organic and non-organic elements as well as references to the creative process, music, and manual labor. The artist's treatment of scale is deliberately arbitrary and non-perspectival, and often seems to allude to different temporalities or planes of existence.
The title of the present work translates to "June day." As Rauch notes about the importance of language in his practice, "occasionally a word can trigger a painting. It can happen that a word develops an incredible atmospheric undertow in the direction of a painting that produces itself where my only duty is to assist. Such moments are precious and they bring me even closer to my mother tongue, for it is only here that such experiences can occur."1
1 Neo Rauch, in Alison M. Gingeras, "Neo Rauch," Flash Art (November/December 2002), p. 277
Oil on canvas
88 7 /8 × 63 3 /4 inches (226 × 162 cm)
Widely credited with having contributed to the revival of painting in the 1990s, Belgian artist Luc Tuymans (b. 1958) continues to assert its relevance by addressing a diverse range of topics. Quiet, restrained, and at times unsettling, his works engage equally with questions of history and its representation as with quotidian subject matter cast in unfamiliar and eerie light. Painted from pre-existing imagery, they often appear slightly out-of-focus and sparsely colored, like third-degree abstractions from reality. Tuymans is known for his widespread use of source imagery drawn from magazines, television footage, and Polaroids; in his recent work, however, he has made increasing use of pictures found online as well as his own iPhone photos, which he often prints out and re-photographs several times. The present work derives from an image that the artist saw on the front page of The New York Times of a man carrying a bucket into a grotto in rural China. Though it was a new photograph, Tuymans was struck by the figure's traditional dress, which, coupled with the task he was performing, gave him the appearance of being displaced in time. Both the muted color palette and the creasing that bisects the canvas reference the source image, which Tuymans re-photographed and cropped. The framing and frontal orientation reinforce the simultaneous immediacy and anonymity of this figure suspended in the moment of crossing the threshold between light and darkness.
INFINITY-NETS [JSAL], 2015
Acrylic on canvas
44 1 /8 × 57 3 /8 inches (112.1 × 145.7 cm)
Yayoi Kusama's (b. 1929) work has transcended two of the most important art movements of the second half of the twentieth century: pop and minimalism. Her highly influential career spans paintings, performances, room-size presentations, outdoor sculptural installations, literary works, films, fashion, design, and interventions within existing architectural structures, which allude at once to microscopic and macroscopic universes.
Kusama began her large-scale Infinity Net paintings in the 1950s, when she moved to the United States from her native Japan. First produced at a time when Abstract Expressionism was still the dominant style, these canvases, according to Mignon Nixon, set out to "replace the expressive gesture with an exhaustive one, pushing painting to its limits of spatial extent and 'monotony;' and to obliterate the self, reconceiving contemporary painting from a subjective statement of individual consciousness to 'nothingness' on an epic scale."1
Kusama went on to apply the obsessive, hallucinatory qualities of the Infinity Nets to her three-dimensional work, creating optical environments that merge concepts such as flatness and depth, presence and absence. Meanwhile, she has continuously returned to the theme in her paintings, using a variety of formats and colors. The red net pattern in the present work spreads out across a white background, creating from a distance an optical combination of the two colors. While from afar, the overall composition appears flat and uniformly repetitive, closer observation of the work's surface reveals the materiality of the paint and the individual nature of the repeating elements.
1 Mignon Nixon, "Infinity Politics," in Frances Morris, ed., Yayoi Kusama. Exh. cat. (London: Tate Publishing, 2012), p. 180.
Mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating
100 × 56 7 /8 × 62 3 /8 inches (254 × 144.5 × 158.3 cm)
American artist Jeff Koons (b. 1955) is widely regarded for his bold paintings and monumental sculptures that hold a mirror up to contemporary culture. Using the photorealistic and commercial aesthetic familiar from an earlier generation of pop artists, Koons has generated his own universally recognizable style that frequently comprises smooth, highly reflective surfaces and bright, saturated colors. Koons typically works in series, tapping into subject matter from popular culture and art history that is frequently reminiscent of childhood in order to, as he notes, empower the viewer toward achieving a state of personal transcendence.
The present work belongs to Koons's Porcelain series of sculptures, begun in 2016. Inspired by the objects in nature from lawn ornaments to the outdoor sculptures in the gardens of the Château de Versailles, where the artist had a 2008-2009 solo exhibition, these large-scale works are modeled after porcelain objets d'art that were manufactured in Europe from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. Prized for both their durability and delicacy, and revered for their "exotic" Eastern origins, the subject matter of these porcelain collectibles was often derived either directly or indirectly from well-known sculptures or paintings (the objects themselves were frequently replicated in later iterations as well).
Playing on this initial act of appropriation, the works in this series are organized around three themes: Mythic Nudes (such as the present work), Animals, and Lovers. By executing them in highly reflective mirror-polished stainless steel and recontextualizing them within the bucolic setting of the garden, Koons shifts the emphasis of the figurines to a more universal register: though viewers are looking at traditional subject matter, they become involved in a metaphysical dialogue based on time and what it means to be human. Thanks to technological advances, Koons is for the first time able to faithfully reproduce the highly nuanced gradations of color and detailed patterning of the originals, further underscoring a transformative sense of replication.
IK MACH DASS SCHON JE$S (I'll take care of it, Je$s)
IK MACH DASS SCHON JE$S (I'll take care of it, Je$s), 1972
Acrylic, dispersion, and chalk on felt
122 1 /4 × 106 1 /4 inches (310.5 × 269.9 cm)
German artist Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) is widely considered to be one of the most influential painters of the postwar era. Characterized by an experimental approach to a wide variety of styles, media, and subject matter, Polke's work engages unconventional and diverse materials and techniques, as well as the use of ironic and humorous imagery, as strategies of social, political, and aesthetic critique.
In the early 1960s, Polke and German artists Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, and Gerhard Richter founded the Capitalist Realist movement, which addressed the context of postwar German capitalist culture through a uniquely humorous brand of pop art that depicted readily available consumer and petit-bourgeois imagery. As A.S. Byatt has written, Polke "began in the 1960s as a member of the group of German 'Capitalist Realists' opposed both to East German Socialist Realism and to American Pop's glossy celebration of modern materials. Polke's early works show a fascination, which is both deadpan and bizarrely exotic, with the objects and textures found in petit-bourgeois [culture]…not primarily to sneer, but to show nakedly those emotions to which they aspired…He knows that we live, like no previous culture, in a swarm of insistent man-made visual images—and he is more interested than repelled."1
The present painting depicts three male Hollywood archetypes—a cowboy, an armed militiaman, and a third figure in uniform—amidst indeterminate, casually applied swathes of paint. This large-scale work is executed on a ground of commercially available brown felt fabric, in lieu of traditional canvas. Here, Polke not only humorously pokes fun at Hollywood's glamorization of violence and the ubiquity of American pop culture, but also melds figuration and abstraction in his signature, elusive style. This work relates closely to two similarly large-scale works on fabric from 1972: Mao (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Alice im Wunderland; together, the three works are among the most iconic paintings of the 1970s by the artist, and herald the transition between his Capitalist Realist-inspired work and the utterly unconventional, layered canvases that would define his career in the subsequent decades. While these three paintings were originally created on traditional canvas stretchers, they were often hung by the artist in a free-hanging banner or curtain-like format, suspended by wooden poles. These works were included together in their banner format in one of Polke's first major retrospectives, at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, in 1976, and in Polke's first US solo exhibition, held at the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York in 1982. Later, Polke had Alice im Wunderland and IK MACH DASS SCHON JE$S re-stretched over traditional canvas stretchers.
1 A.S. Byatt, "Polke Dots," Tate Magazine 7 (September/October 2003), accessed March 15, 2016 [tate.org.uk context-comment/articles/polke-dots].