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Group show: The Triumph of Painting - Part 1 (over)

26 January 2005 until 3 July 2005
  The Triumph of Painting - Part 1
Hermann Nitsch, "Golden Love", 1974, Mulitmedia Collage, 200 x 300cm The Saatchi Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery
Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road
London SW3 4SQ
United Kingdom (city map)

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tel +44 (0)20 - 7811 3070

Using film stills, footage of actual events or photographs of urban and natural environments, Peter Doig's work emanates a quiet nostalgia. His paintings convey a sense of borrowed memory, of peering into an intimate realm of past experience – of place and self. In Concrete Cabin, the artist borrows images from a variety of sources – most notably from the functionalist architect Le Corbusier – to create an imaginary voyeuristic experience.

Nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994 and winner of the John Moores Foundation Prize in '93, Doig acknowledges the shared experience effect of his paintings, but distances himself from a linear reading. 'People often say that my paintings remind them of particular scenes from films or from certain passages from books, but I think it's a different thing altogether. There is something more primal about painting'. The act of applying paint, layering images on top of one another, involving oneself physically with the surface of the object undermines the value of the borrowed image and reasserts the primacy of the act.

The melting pot of subjects in Doig's work reference his own experiences, as well as the wider context of social and cultural development. Canadian landscapes are jumbled up with urban planning, Romantic motifs such as the lone boat mixed with horror film imagery (Canoe-Lake), natural environments rendered in Impressionistic impasto executed in a toxic colour scheme… This layering of reference not only reflects the multiplicity of contemporary life – the identity crisis of postmodern art – but also creates unconventional formal results.

The Architect's Home in the Ravine is cut to shreds – almost obliterated - by a network of snow-covered branches. The work creates a sense of unease in the act of looking, echoing the generic horror movie scene where the psychopath hides, watching from the bushes. Is it possible to construct the ideal habitat, or is 'outside' more comforting and familiar? Security, though, is not a productive state. The safety of the refuge is called into question across Doig's oeuvre. It is this self-referencing, above all, which invigorates Doig's paintings and creates a tension - a 'presentness' - that is felt by every viewer.

"My best works are erotic displays of mental confusions (with intrusions of irrelevant information)." Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas' provocative paintings of women, children, celebrities, and people of colour are as psychologically disturbing as they are violently beautiful. Championing the under-represented classes, her characters occupy an unholy ground where the viewer's individual morality, ethics and adherence to ideological convention are questioned.

Dumas makes paintings with no concept of the taboo. Racism, sexuality, religion, motherhood and childhood are all presented with chilling honesty. Undermining universally-held belief systems, Dumas corrupts the very way images are negotiated. Stripped of the niceties of moral consolation, Dumas' work provokes unmitigated horror. She offers no comfort to the viewer, only an unnerving complicity and confusion between victims and oppressors.

"It was my first time in a peepshow so when the girl smiled at me I said "Only looking", and she replied "That's how I got started here too"."

Removing the hierarchical value system of perception, Dumas presents unsettling truths as paintings because there is no other means to communicate their primal essence. Working from her own photos and pictures found in magazine and film archives, her canvases act as sociological studies. Subjects, already at one remove, are further physically and dispassionately distanced by her instinctive and disquieting painting style.

Often described as an 'intellectual expressionist', Dumas blurs the boundaries between painting and drawing. Bold lines and shapes mix seamlessly with ephemeral washes and thick gestural brushwork. By simplifying and distorting her subjects, Dumas creates intimacy through alienation. Her subjects' assertive stares suggest that her paintings aren't actually about them, but the viewer's own reaction to their perverse circumstance. With deceptive casualness, Dumas exposes the monstrous capacity belied by 'civilised' human nature.

Beneath Dumas' hard-hitting social dialogue is a deep-rooted ideological equality. As one of the most profoundly feminist contemporary artists', Dumas uses painting as a means to personally navigate history. Her holistic approach to making and subject undermines the discomfort and restriction of traditional rationale. Embracing the totality of human experience, Dumas finds an eternal beauty not in immediate pleasure, but in the timeless gap between the cherished and unspeakable.

"Art is universal. That may sound like a cliché, but art is more than something material; it has to do with the spirit." Immendorff, 2003

One of the leading figures of the new German Expressionism, along with George Baselitz and Anselm Keifer, Jörg Immendorff's paintings first came to international prominence in the 1970s. Having studied with Joseph Bueys in the 60s, Immendorff approaches painting through a conceptualist stand-point; his works deals largely with the crisis of post-war German identity, a frenetic relationship with modernity, and a deep rooted faith in the role of the artist as an integral political and social force.

Immendorff's large canvases are fraught with imagery, a proverbial, and often literal theatre of decadence. His stage set compositions allude to the illusionary aspects of art: Immendorff doesn't present a reality, but rather a dominion of his own control, a personal mythology that is often poignant, humorous, scathing, and prophetic. With the Café Deutschland series (late 70s), and later the Café de Flore series (80s), Immendorff posited a fictional territory within which he was free to explore and portray his thoughts on art, his country, politics and the world in general.

"In my paintings, symbols associated with National Socialist Germany function as kinds of clichés insofar as they stand for universal evils… The factors that led to [Hilter's] rise to power and the destruction he subsequently wrought remain permanent dangers… Such images must be painted. To make them taboo would be regressive. The smoking swastika indicates that the matter is far from closed, be it in Germany or--from the perspective of 2003--the malicious terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Evil takes root and flourishes when art and freedom of expression are censored..." (Immendorff, in conversation with Pamela Kort, Art Forum, March 2003)

Myth-making is at the core of Immendorff's work. Developing his own complex brand of symbolism, his paintings can be read as allegory. Political iconography, such as the German eagle, Soviet sickle, and Worker's fist mix quite literally with Immendorff's ever expanding cast of characters: both politicians and his artist-friends. At the heart is a re-writing of history – both political and art -- where personal positioning and moral reconciliation is at the forefront.

Immendorff's style lies somewhere between painterly expressionism and political cartoon; equally revered and populist. Exaggerating each element to its graphic extreme, Immendorff uses paint as a means to negotiate his own position through documenting a 20th century zeitgeist. Operating like medieval religious painting, Immendorff not only presents the story of our time, but questions the morality and ethic of an increasingly frivolous society.

"It is almost impossible to recapture the utopian spirit of the '80s today, not only because there are no cultural dialogues, but because there is less possibility today of reconciling religious, racial, and moral differences. In my eyes, everyone in the world…should put the questions on the table again just as they did in the 80s: "What's the reason I paint? What is the purpose of the work I carry out every day?"" (Immendorff, in conversation with Pamela Kort, Art Forum, March 2003)

For Immendorff, the act of painting extends beyond creative function: it becomes the most relevant means by which an individual can make an impact in history: measuring oneself against the world, taking a personal viewpoint and creating real meaning from contemporary existence.

"I tell my students, "Take your time. Breathe for twenty years or so. Try and make a portrait of yourself that depicts who you will be thirty years from now."

Text written by Patricia Ellis

Joseph Beuys said: 'Everyone – each person – is an artist.'

Kippenberger said: 'Every artist is a person.'

As one of the most prodigious artists' of the 1980s and 90s, Martin Kippenberger epitomised the romantic notion of the artist in the late 20th century. Inventing himself as the centre of the art world, Kippenberger's practice was based on shameless self-promotion. Mythologizing himself as an Everyman-hero, his vast body of work is a testament to a larger than life character, a tragic-comic paladin, plagued as much by his own talent and success as by his ego and shortcomings.

Kippenberger always knew he'd be a something: deciding on a career as an artist only after failed stints as a novelist, actor, musician, and nightclub owner. This spirit of democracy – of inflicting himself creatively on the world in whatever form – is omni-present throughout Kippenberger's work. Bolstered by an unwavering self-belief that his every contribution was a masterpiece, Kippenberger approached art with a sort of 'free for all' naivety, stripping away art's glamour and hierarchy to expose its absurd dysfunctionality at every level.

Kippenberger's career has transformed into an almost cult-like legend, existing as much in lore-ish tradition as in the actual physical works. He's the guy who bought a run-down gas station in Brazil and named it after a Nazi war criminal. He built an imaginary global subway system with real entrances installed in the Yukon, Leipzig, and a remote field in Greece (and working air vents at various points in between). He opened The Museum of Modern Art in an unused abattoir in Syros (MOMAS). He bought a Gerhard Richter painting to use as a coffee table. For Kippenberger, art wasn't about disrespect: it was about what he could get away with.

Painting figures highly in Kippenberger's work. Consciously aware of its power of legitimisation, Kippenberger made paintings ceaselessly throughout his career. As a painter, Kippenberger was almost a prodigal talent: refusing to be identified by a 'style', each of his canvases demonstrates an immense understanding and control of representation, composition, and gesture. Subjects as eclectic as his multi-facetted practice are often taken from the mundane and everyday. His favourite café in Berlin, the Chevrolet Capri, and abstract paintings constructed of beach towels all serve to underscore the idea of an art for all: democratic, easy, and as infinitely limitless and valued as the most cultured treasure.

"People come along [in twenty years or so] and can say what the work and the artist were really all about. What people will say about me then -- or maybe not say -- will be the only thing that finally counts. Whether or not I contributed to spreading a good mood. What I'm working on is for people to be able to say that Kippenberger had this really good mood". – Kippenberger, 1990

Hermann Nitsch was born in Vienna in 1938. While studying graphic illustration, he became interested in religous art. He made copies from Rembrandt's 100 Gulden Blatt and Christ Crucified, and from other religious themes by artists' such as Tintoretto and El Greco. Other drawings Nitsch made at this time were strongly influenced by Cézanne, Klimt and Munch, amongst others. From around 1957 onwards, the depiction of Dionysian revelry and ceremonies began to feature in his work.

In 1957, Nitsch's idea for a radical theatre was conceived, which he called the Orgien Mysterien Theater. The O.M. Theatre took its shape from ideas about Aristotelian catharsis, Freudian psychology, conventional theatre and Dionysic orgy. It is an attempt to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, a 'total art', or mystical experience that involves all the senses.

The first performances of the O. M. Theatre consisted of Nitsch and friends using animal carcasses, entrails and blood in a ritualistic way. The cloths, bandages and other fabrics used in these performances introduced Nitsch to the idea of making paintings. 1960 saw the first exhibition of his Aktion paintings in Vienna. In the mid-60s Nitsch's theatre pieces were also performed in Vienna.

During that period, his use of taboo images put him out of favour with the authorities. His 'Aktions' were interrupted by the police and closed down. Nitsch served time in prison for blasphemy and provoking a scandal. In 1968, Jonas Mekas invited him to New York, where he met the Fluxus performance artists'. He staged Aktions in the streets of New York, as well as at the Judson Church & Cinematheque.

In 1971 Nitsch bought Prinzendorf castle in the wine-producing area of northern Austria, so that it might become a centre for the activities if the O. M. Theatre. During this time Nitsch staged performances and exhibitions in Italy, France, the US and Germany. He was also planning a three day (and night) performance.

The music that Nitsch composed himself was becoming increasingly prominent in his performances. In 1972 he participated in Documenta V, Kassel, and staged Aktions at the Mercer Center and Everson Museum of Art. In 1984, Nitsch staged a performance that lasted three days and three nights at Prinzendorf. In 1988 he married Rita Leitenbor. In the mid-90s he co-directed and designed the set for the opera Herodiade by Jules Massenet at the Vienna State Opera. In 1996 he performed an Aktion in the wine-yards of San Martino (Napoli), and in 1998 staged the 6-day play in Prinzendorf, an Aktion that Nitsch sees as the greatest achievement of his career.

Related Publications:

The Triumph of Painting
will define how painting has not only survived into the new century in the face of the barrage of imagery from other media, but it will demonstrate how painting has absorbed that imagery, reshaped it in its own central domain, and touched us profoundly.

£35.00 - Published by Random House

Visitors to the gallery can purchase the book at the special price of £30.00

First in a series of supplementary volumes featuring many key works by 6 important artists'. Essay by Alison Gingeras, biographies by Patricia Ellis.

£16.50 - Published and distributed by Koenig Books London

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