August 7, 2016
Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.
This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.
In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.
The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.
The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.
Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series ‘POETS‘. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.
As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.
A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!
Anselm Kiefer once said, “art is difficult, it’s not entertainment.” Indeed, when I first encountered Kiefer’s art at his retrospective in Royal Academy of Arts in London in late 2014, I found his art almost unbearably heavy and dark. His first retrospective in France is happening right now, and gave me a better understanding of his art.
Now held at Centre Pompidou in Paris, the retrospective showcases 150 works by this 70-year-old German artist who emerged in the art scene of post-war Germany in 1969, spanning almost half of a century. Organized chronologically and thematically into 13 sections, the retrospective exhibits around 60 selected paintings alongside drawings, installations, artist’s books and 40 “display cases” of micro-fragmented environments or ruins consisting of broken machinery, rusty metal, old photographs and filmstrips.
Firstly, the large-scale installation in the Forum of Centre Pompidou, Steigend, steigend, sinke niede [In climbing, climbing towards the heights, fall into the abyss] with materials resembling hundreds of filmstrips, symbolizes the exhibition as a film running backwards, which simultaneously echoes the perpetual theme of memory in the art of Anselm Kiefer.
“Memory”, “history” and “myth” are some of the keywords to understanding Kiefer’s art as he is one of the first artists in post-war Germany to look into Nazi history by means of his art. In 1969, the artist made a series of photographic self-portraits in which he performed the Hitler salute, dressing in his father’s old Nazi army uniform. In the painting Notung, the sword bears Kiefer’s fascination with the Germanic heroes who are part of the national identity. It is also stained with blood, simultaneously becoming a witness to the nation’s history of the past century. Representing Germany at the Venice Biennial in 1980, Anselfm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz opened a Pandora’s box by making references to German history – the history that the whole nation wanted to forget. With the series Wege der Weltsweisheit [Ways of Worldly Wisdom], Kiefer insisted on the need to face the Nazi history by painting a web connecting the portraits of German intellectuals with some Nazi figures with a forest at the background representing Germany. In Kiefer’s philosophy, “only by going into the past can you go into the future.”
This links to another significant aspect of Kiefer’s art – the sublime and regenerative power of art. Kiefer explores the role of the artist after Nazism, with a drawn palette superimposed on a ruined landscape in Malen [To Paint]. As the bluish rain showered by the palette seems to be refreshing the burnt field, Kiefer illustrates the power of art to salvage and regenerate from the wreckage. Therefore, one could say Kiefer’s art is bipolar – it bridges joy and hope with gloomy catastrophic ruins.
In the painterly Bose Blumen, the expressive colors of flowering meadows, with references to the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, does not only witness the transformation of Kiefer’s art from monochrome black to a variety of colors, but also denotes cycles of perpetual regeneration as the essence of Kiefer’s artistic philosophy. This is reinforced by the final, site-specific installation, For Madame de Staël: Germany, with cardboard mushrooms indicating various German intellectuals sprouting from sands that are spread over a large gallery space in front of a painting of a dark forest that signifies Germany. With this latest piece indicating transformation and rebirth growing from his nation’s tormented past, Kiefer is determined to emphasize the transcending power of art.
As Kiefer once said art may not be easy, as his art deals with the past, the present and the future in this complicated world. Take a chance to experience and understand Anselm Kiefer’s art at Centre Pompidou until 18th of April, 2016.