Jan VAN WOENSEL
Léopold Rabus (º1977, Switzerland), shows a selection of recent paintings, accompanied by one in situ installation, at Galerie Adler in Chelsea, New York. It is the artists’ debut on the American turf.
There are various ways to introduce Léopold Rabus’s work. Too often, critics get high on the fact that the artist has established a unique style, combining a traditional oil paint technique with experimental elements, such as, applying unconventional materials such as nail polish, hair and wax onto the canvas. Although this technique is obviously an important element in the work of the artist, a solely pragmatic description doesn’t necessarily bring us any further into his complex world of ideas. I’d rather get high on something else, such as the disturbing situations that this painter stages in his paintings. Léopold Rabus’s paintings depict mostly domestic scenes that look obscure and suggestive. They often elaborate on a weird obscenity. The press release of the exhibition confirms this, and continues saying that “the pictorial worlds of Léopold Rabus defy any clear definition. He plays with clichés, with symbols and well-known motives which he alters or assigns new meanings. His thematic series engage in aspects of good and bad, of religion and sexuality, life and death”. In this, I see a recurrent phenomenon (for wanting to not say “theme”) in the work of Léopold Rabus, similar as in the work of, for instance, Swedish clay animation artist, Nathalie Djurberg or Belgian installation artist, Filip Vervaet. Apart from their ages, all three of them have in common the weird combination of depicting domestic deterioration, referencing popular culture and using a certain state of constant psychological disorder as a running thread throughout their emerging oeuvres. I can’t help that there is one word which howls through my mind as satisfactory for naming this phenomenon, this “theme” in contemporary art, and that is: apocalyptic. Each one of these artists expresses the apocalyptic in a virtuosic amalgam of painted, animated or sculpted images. Djurberg’s obscene scenes of domestic violence and sexual harassment, Vervaet’s sarcastically-coded “Schwartzwald-klinik” and sci-fi aesthetics, and Rabus’s bizarre iconography and disturbing ambiguous scenes, seem to capture a situation of ethical decay, and we are part of it.
Displayed at Galerie Adler, Léopold Rabus’s new series of paintings depict a scene wherein a flock of starving crows forcefully invades a shabby-looking room wherein children reside (La Grange, 2006). A second painting shows another interior scene wherein two identical twins are playing a strange game of pushing a pillow against the oversized head of a male character. Their eyes are blank, and the expressions on their faces should be described as close to forced smiles, in between pain and mania (Mediums, 2006). The exhibition “Bread for the Birds” seems to exaggerate the rather innocent action of feeding birds, like we would do on a Sunday morning in a park, for instance. Yet, the white elegant swans or colorful ducks that we would traditionally feed chunks of old bread, are replaced by black, vicious crows that come to take what they want, and eventually form a threat to the human race. Hereby, the artist emphasizes the idea of how everything in our modern society is modified, structured and artificially kept in balance. Hence, his works focus in depth on people’s weaknesses and dependences. He cleverly uses elements of nature to underscore our unstable state of being. In Rabus’s world, we are all disoriented, mentally affected and co-responsible for the apocalypse, which is not necessarily a physical end of the world, but a condition wherein everything is off track: diseases spread globally, ethical values deteriorate rapidly, and prominent religious groups transform into extreme power forces. Seen from this perspective, the painting, that illustrates how violent crows penetrate a domestic environment to steal food and battle with pale, white kids, suddenly becomes an even more meaning-laden picture than generally described. The moral of the story would eventually be that every form of escalating disturbance potentially generates from each of our living situations, or our childhoods. The question remains of whether these paintings, and how many of them, should be considered autobiographical references.
If the Village Voice, or any other NYC-based art magazine, would have a section rating the promising newcomers in Chelsea, then Galerie Adler should be one of the top-rated galleries. Since the inauguration of her Frankfurt space in 2003, director Ulrike Adler has established an interesting profile as an emerging gallery by courageously representing promising artists such as Alex McQuilkin (USA), Alejandro Vidal (ES), Ragnar Kjartansson (IS), and Sebastian Gögel (D). In September of 2006, Adler opened a second space in Chelsea, New York’s posh gallery district. Parallel to being a frequent participant to international art fairs, such as, FIAC, VOLTA, Art Rotterdam, Art Frankfurt, and Photo London, Adler continues scouting for fresh talent. Her flexible gallery program, including two sub-zones and a video space, makes it possible to have occasional collaborations. If you’re an emerging artist and your topics are youth culture, social conflicts, life and death, faith, angst, violence or other kinds of human abysses, then don’t hesitate to send your portfolio to the gallery.
(Edited by Vanessa Albury)
BREAD FOR THE BIRDS: LÉOPOLD RABUS
April 12th – June 23rd, 2007
Galerie Adler NYC
547 West 27th Street, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10001
Galerie Adler Frankfurt am Main
Hanauer Landstraße 134
Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the curatorial advisor of Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer and curator of Studio Philippe Vandenberg. Van Woensel is professor at CCA, dept of Curatorial Practice in San Francisco; Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles; and NYU, dept of Art and Art Professions in New York. Office Jan Van Woensel, a team of assistant curators supervised by Van Woensel, works with international clients such as private collectors, art galleries and artists on exhibitions. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org http://icpabackstage.blogspot.com
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