Norbert Bisky: The Proud, the Few
Having caused a stir in his home country ever since his first solo exhibition in 2001, German painter Norbert Bisky has finally made his way to the States via Leo Koenig Gallery. Though glimpses of Bisky’s work could have been caught at the 2003 Miami Basel Art Fair or at a 2002 group exhibition at Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon, the current show is his solo debut in New York. As much criticized for using imagery and titles that bring former Nazi and Socialist propaganda to mind as admired for his incredible technical skill and talent as a colorist, this former student of Georg Baselitz seems to be on the fast track to becoming one of Germany’s most controversial artists. With the determination and ease of the younger generation (Bisky was born in 1970), he challenges his country’s more conservative minds by employing visual aesthetics that have been left untouched for decades and by openly wondering, "How democratic are we?"
Born and raised in Leipzig, East Germany, Bisky grew up under the Socialist regime of the German Democratic Republic. Though his first encounter with mass media was linked to Socialist ideals, he later discovered that the concept of propaganda, and the visual vocabulary used for it, remained similar even when employed by opposing ideologies. To Bisky, rigorous praise of the ideals of youth, health, physical strength, and perfection always implies a fascist view of life, whether the promoter is a dictatorial government or the creator of a contemporary advertising campaign. By portraying groups of young men whose physical features fulfill the clichés of Aryan perfection, Bisky points out the consequences of abandoning individualism and fantasizing about fabricating a superior race.
Bearing the same title as the exhibition itself, "The Proud, the Few" (2003) is a good example of Bisky’s standard vocabulary. Utilizing strong diagonals as dramatic structural license, the composition features a translucent palette dominated by blue, ochre, and white, that leaves large patches of the primed canvas revealed. With his white-blond hair blending into the vivid clouds and eyes that reflect the saturated blue of the sky, a young male is set against a summer-bright horizon. Shown from the waistline up, he wears a tight muscle shirt that favorably frames his well-toned arms. Depicted from a lower perspective, the boyish head seems tilted upward, while his gaze fixates on the far distance and the rest of his face remains motionless. Denying any insight into the figure’s emotional condition, Bisky subtracts all traces of personality from his hero and provides him with a discomforting aura of secrecy and mistrust.
It is, however, in the more complex figurative assemblages that Bisky’s work is at its most psychologically ambiguous and powerful. In "Neue Pyramiden" (New Pyramids, 2003), the muscular torso of a male youth dominates the picture plane. Arms raised with two red sticks in his hands, he creates a triangular shape. In the background, two groups of men who could easily be generic duplicates of the main character, translate this symbolic gesture into three-dimensional form. Climbing athletically onto each other’s shoulders, they build pyramids with their own bodies. Rather than being viewed as a harmless game amongst comrades, the scene serves as a metaphor for the aggressive human urge for expansion. A tiny bright red helicopter appears on the upper left horizon line, a threat to the celebration of the pyramid as a symbol of stability. Going down on a slight diagonal, it becomes the potential bearer of horrific destruction.
Though Bisky’s work will not have the same provocative effect on the American public as it has had in Germany, one of the most important questions it raises will hardly lose its impact: "When, why, and how does evil start in human heads?"
States of Incarceration: Zhandarka Kurti and Jarrod Shanahan with Tobi HaslettBy Tobi Haslett
OCT 2022 | Field Notes
This book, perhaps the most synthetic and ambitious look at the George Floyd Rebellion, is an attempt to view the events of 2020 from the perspective of complete social transformationwhich is to say, revolution.
Retreat from the Divided States of AmericaBy Ivan Talijancic
FEB 2021 | Dance
After a year of artistic stasis and isolation, Ivan Talijancic notices a trend of new international residencies dreamed up by New York artists. With tentative light at the end of the pandemics tunnel, and a bleak political reality in America, three choreographers look to a hopeful future on foreign shores.
Rodin in the United States: Confronting the ModernBy Brandt Junceau
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
Confronting the Modern begs a question the exhibition does not mean to ask: just what is Rodins modernity? Which comes down to who was Auguste Rodin, really?
Jorge Galindo: VerbenaBy Amanda Millet-Sorsa
OCT 2022 | ArtSeen
Last summer 2021, Jorge Galindo had his first major exhibition in the United States, and this year he returns to New York with Verbena, his first solo exhibition of his newest works, at Vito Schnabel. Since then, his work has gained in momentum and has been shown at Nino Mier in Los Angeles, the Hall Art Foundation Schloss Derneburg Museum (Germany), and the Museu Municipal Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (Portugal), where his collaborative work with Pedro Almodóvar was exhibited.