Aesthetics of Violence

Norbert Bisky: Paintings

January 24 - June 20, 2009

Curator: Tami Katz-Freiman

Norbert Bisky - a prominent member of the new German Expressionist wave - was born in Leipzig in 1970, and was raised on the socialist values of East Germany. He began his artistic career following the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a student of Georg Baselitz. His paintings reflect the cultural conflict stemming from the unification of the two Germanies, and the rapid transition from a communist regime to a capitalist consumer culture. Bisky's works respond with no little cynicism to optimistic messages and promises for a better world

Bisky's early body of works includes the 2005 work Fairy Lights, which is featured in this exhibition. These works were influenced by social realist propaganda images and by the aesthetics of East German youth movements. At the time, they provoked controversy due to their combination of Aryan and homoerotic imagery, and to their portrayal of golden-haired, muscular boys against a bright, blue-skyed German landscape. These paintings attempted to expose the similarity between the hollow promise of happiness that characterized East German propaganda and the fake illusions marketed by capitalist, democratic society.

In his more recent series, such as those featured in this exhibition, Bisky abandoned these bright youth movement scenes in favor of a darker, more surreal universe. In these paintings, it is already clear that the promised paradise is inherently faulty, and that the social utopia it embodies is in the process of collapsing. The drugged and drunken youths in these works are the distressed victims of this utopia. They appear as cloned figures that are indistinguishable from one another, and inhabit a cracked, torn-apart world that oozes strange liquids. The spectacular visions of violence featured in these works involve sadistic acts, brutal cannibalism, slaughter, executions, amputations and bodily excretions - an orgy of dark, chaotic and violent forces, as well as battlefields in which everyone has turned against each other. This effect is achieved by means of a seductive and polished form of beauty, dramatic lighting and a colorful theatricality. The palette of these works underscores the artificiality of the narrative, to the point that it becomes almost impossible to discern the horrors they depict. The postmodern spirit is evident in these paintings in terms of the countless quotations from the history of art, alongside images influenced by the worlds of advertising, cinema and fashion. To these one must also add Bisky's attraction to Baroque ecstasy, especially in terms of his charged relationship to the body as a site both sacred and profane, noble and abject. It seems that this overwhelming flood of stimuli addresses the process of desensitization characteristic of our time; it is the source of the critical stance expressed in Bisky's works, and of their relevancy to the contemporary discourse and to the manner in which images of violence are treated in the current exhibition cluster.

Born in Leipzig, East Germany, 1970; lives and works in Berlin

Sputum, 2007, oil on canvas, 275 x 200 cm, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Crone, Berlin

Aufmacher [Opener], 2008, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm, private collection, Croatia

Extase [Ecstasy], 2008, oil on canvas, 130 x 100 cm, courtesy of Museum Junge Kunst Frankfurt (Oder)

Schwarzmaler [Painter of Darkness], 2008, oil on canvas, 130 x 100 cm, Fischer collection, Berlin

Übergepäck [Excess Luggage], 2008, oil on canvas, 200 x 275 cm, private collection, Berlin

Lichterkette [Fairy Lights], 2005, oil on canvas, 190 x 270 cm, private collection, Southern Africa

Biljana Đurđević: Paintings

January 24 - June 20, 2009

Curator: Tami Katz-Freiman

The violent themes in Serbian artist Biljana Đurđević's works reflect her development as an artist during the horror-stricken 1990s -when violence in her country peaked following the collapse of the communist regime in Eastern Europe. Đurđević belongs to the young generation of Serbian artists who experienced the political disintegration of Yugoslavia, and Serbia's isolation under the rule of Slobodan Milošević. The body of works featured in this exhibition represents a selection from several series created by Đurđević between 1999 and 2007, in which she gazes directly into the darkest abysses of the human soul.

Đurđević's paintings are characterized by a cruel and dramatic narrative realism, which has been termed "necrophilic realism" due to the multiplication of dead bodies and the sterile atmosphere of the public showers, operating rooms or morgues they depict. The terrifying human figures represented in these compositions offer no solace. Although they appear real, the artist insists that they do not build upon a concrete reality. The nightmarish painterly space resembles a stage, and the depicted action seems to have been frozen against a series of flat, decorative backdrops. The freezing of the scenes produces a sense of "before" or "after," thus increasing the tension and charging the works with a dramatic quality.

Đurđević's paintings are suffused with allusions and quotations related to the history of art, and especially to the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Christian iconography and historical paintings serve as sources from which the artist culls the charged materials for her works. In some of her paintings, one may detect themes, gestures or motifs that can be clearly identified with paintings by Ucello, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Hals and Rembrandt. Đurđević uses the history of art in a functional and at times even cynical manner, which is due to the inverted meanings produced by her expropriation of images from their original context.

The works presented in this exhibition are characterized by emotional intensity: the tension embodied in the figures, the dizzying perspectives and the contrasts between dramatic action and decorative backdrops transform their observation into an unsettling experience. It seems that the entire brutal history of the Balkans is reflected in these images. As if submitting a dry and pragmatic post-mortem report, these paintings bespeak the politics of fear haunting a society that has experienced too many images of dead bodies.

Born in Belgrade, Serbia, 1973; lives and works in Belgrade

Summer Time is Over, 2005, oil on canvas, 195 x 300 cm, courtesy of the artist and galerie davide gallo, Berlin, Collection of Marco Fossataro, Naples, Italy, photography: Sasa Reljic

Saturday Evening Out, 1999, oil on canvas, 185 x 170 cm, courtesy of the artist and galerie davide gallo, Berlin, C-Collection, Lugano, Switzerland

Systematic Examination, 2005, oil on canvas,150 x 230 cm, courtesy of the artist and galerie davide gallo, Berlin, collection of Mario Covello, Naples, Italy, photography: Sasa Reljic

Gluttony-Crucifixion, 2004, oil on canvas, 251 x 162 cm, courtesy of the artist and galerie davide gallo, Berlin, collection of Giovanni Cornaro, Lugano, Switzerland, photography: Sasa Reljic

Boy, 2007, oil on canvas, 113 x 63 cm, courtesy of the artist and gallerie davide gallo, Berlin, collection of Mauro Crachi, Rome, Italy, photography: Sasa Reljic

AES+F Group: Video

January 24 - June 20, 2009

Curator: Tami Katz-Freiman

AES+F is considered to be one of Russia's most prominent contemporary art groups. Their video works, sculptures, paintings, photographs and multimedia installations are characterized by breathtaking beauty, accessible and communicative imagery and provocative, ceremonial scenes imbued with a glamorous, sensuous Baroque quality. During the 1990s, the group members forged their own unique language and identity, while touching upon painful and problematic aspects of international politics and world events. Their Islamic Project (1996-2003), for instance, examined the West's phobia concerning Islam, while Suspects (1997) was concerned with youth violence. Like a cinematic production, the works' production process involves choosing sites, role casting models, designing costumes, managing extras and creating complex photographs. The studio work involves digitally manipulating single images and combining them into a kind of multilayered collage, which the group members describe as "digital painting." In the course of this process, which is constructed as a panoramic animation work, the individually photographed figures are fused against a virtual background. The high-resolution photographs create a sterile, imaginary hyperreality. The narrative, cinematic format and the monumental compositions call to mind Renaissance and Baroque battle scenes featuring epic events.

The video work Last Riot came to be seen as one of the group's iconic achievements after being exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and receiving much international attention. It has been termed a "requiem for the modern world," since it presents an apocalyptic vision that reflects the spirit of the time and raises questions concerning the values of Western culture. Set against the backdrop of a synthetic, a-historical landscape is a cluster of androgynous-looking boys and girls who seem to have emerged from a futuristic version of a Benetton ad. These young rebels or contemporary gods - members of different races with a self-estranged, post-human appearance - battle each other in what appears to be a fateful and decisive struggle, in which it is impossible to distinguish between victims and aggressors. Their actions are mechanical and monotonous, and have no apparent reason or goal. They brandish swords and clubs, yet the blades rubbing against bare necks do not really cut into the flesh, and the clubs do not really hit against the body. The range of violent bodily gestures is performed in slow motion and is devoid of fear or pain, as if partaking of a symbolic performance or ritual. This is a simulacrum of sterilized violence that has been stripped of a motive, of emotions and of any vestiges of material existence in favor of a perfect composition produced by 3D technology. It seems that in this work, the AES+F members have distilled their "aesthetics of violence" to its most powerful essence, processing it into a climactic futuristic display suffused with pathos and eroticism.

The compositions and poses of the figures featured in this fantasy are based on a synthesis between classical art and popular art. They include references to Christian iconography in the style of Verrocchio or Bernini, pastoral Baroque scenes in the style of Poussin and Claude Lorrain and social realism inspired by Soviet propaganda paintings - as well as advertisements, fashion layouts, comics, computer games and Hollywood films like "The War of the Worlds." The use of advertising imagery, sensationalism and politics; the glorification of youth; and the preoccupation with globalization and cultural differences produce an allegory for a pathology of violence we have already become indifferent to - an allegory that amplifies, as if under a magnifying lens, the neuroses and fantasies of our world.

Tatiana Arzamasova, born in Moscow (1955); Lev Evzovich, born in Moscow (1958); Evgeny Svyatsky, born in Moscow (1957); Vladimir Fridkes, born in Moscow (1956); The group was founded in 1987 by Arzamasova , Evzovich and Svyatsky; in 1995, they were joined by Fridkes. They live and work in Moscow.

Last Riot, 2007 (video stills), HD video, single-channel projection, 22:30 minutes, sound, courtesy of Doron Sebbag Art Collection, ORS Ltd., Tel Aviv