December, 2008, Philippe Vandenberg @ ENVOY Gallery Curated by Jan Van Woensel
Philippe Vandenberg (photo: Sam Mirlesse) Mr. Vandenberg's exhibition is Curated by Jan Van Woensel in New York City at ENVOY Gallery on Chrystie Street until January 25th 2009
Philippe Vandenberg @ENVOY Gallery on Chrystie Street. Curated by Jan Van Woensel
December 18th 2008 to January 25th 2009.
By Sam Mirlesse
“Il faut bouger dans la vie” were some of the first words from Philippe Vandenberg in response to my inquiry as to what the common thread between his paintings exhibited at the Envoy Gallery on Chrystie Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side last week was. “Il faut bouger dans la vie, in other words… you must move in life.” The Belgian artist’s reasoning behind such a statement was that through mobility, we are able to rescue ourselves from depression. To be static is to lose everything—therefore we are most enriched by nomadic sensibilities. Indeed, the press release, put together by the exhibition's curator Whitehot’s own Jan Van Woensel, chose to emphasize this point above all others in its introduction to the exhibition. To paraphrase Van Woensel, ‘Vandenberg paints to resist stagnation.’
The paintings presented as part of “L’Image Maudite (The Cursed Image)” --at Envoy until January 25th
-- offer a range of topics, mostly political in commentary, and both furious and playful in temperament. Where in one we see a caricature of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat splattered with graffiti (a man to whom Vandenberg compared Jesus Christ in casual conversation with me), in the next we see swastikas masquerading as party-goers, sporting colorful paper hats and dancing across a white canvas, to which Vandenberg comments that he means to reference the fascism we experience today—a fascism in disguise. Other paintings include a drawing of four women over a whitewashed canvas, underneath which the artist explained is a layer of animal blood (he calls this piece “Misery of the Day”), as well as a smaller work hung above where the absinthe is being served that depicts a smiling face drawn over some brown liquid – apparently the artist’s own blood this time, (this one called “The Laugh”). What is the common thread again? Indeed, the paintings span a period of time beginning in 1989 and leading up to the last few years of the artist’s life, and as a viewer, you certainly are aware of the collection of concerns and moments, one jumping off into the next.
Certainly he has moved, as he says, he has painted, and participated in his fair share of stagnation resistance. But the thing that strikes you the most is perhaps less this notion of the nomad, and more the sense of the frenetic mind, something slightly disturbed, something slightly out of step with the pace of the paint stroke itself, as if perhaps even frustrated by it. Indeed we get the sense of a nomadic thought process, more than a nomadic behavior or physical movement. It comes as no surprise therefore when Vandenberg tells me he is an admirer of the work of Francisco Goya, well-known for the often dark but satirical, thoroughly mad content of his work.
Perhaps this is his point, however—that Vandenberg should intellectually interact with his own political and social concerns through painting them. Like many artists before him and contemporary to him, his work is driven by his expression of a critique of the world we live in, an image-making for the purpose of exposing something that is true in his eyes. In this sense we can understand the thought process of a nomad as that being focused on search as a means to survival. To be stagnant would be to express nothing, to choose silence over a vocalization of stream-of-consciousness through paint would be to die, intellectually speaking. ‘The cursed images’ offered to us by Vandenberg this month in New York are proof of his own personal search, they are debris of a man’s movement.
whitehot gallery images
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Sabine Mirlesse is a photographer and visual artist currently living and working in Paris. She is a recent graduate of the MFA Photography and Related Media program at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City and has written for The Paris Review and BOMB Magazine in addition to the NY edition of Whitehot. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her website
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