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A solo exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle highlights Icelandic artist Erro's work
Icelandic artist Erro stands in front of his art piece 'Fishscape' of 1974 with the catalogue of the exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle (exhibition space) in Frankfurt Main, Germany, 05 October 2011. The Schirn features the solo exhibition 'Erro. Portrait and Landscape' between 06 October 2011 and 08 January 2012. EPA/ARNE DEDERT.

FRANKFURT.- On the occasion of Iceland’s presentation as a guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, the Schirn Kunsthalle will dedicate a solo exhibition to this country’s artist Erró from October 6, 2011 to January 8, 2012. Erró ranks among the great solitary figures of twentieth-century art. At once pop and baroque, eye-catching and narrative, critical of society and humorous, moral and inscrutable, he has produced an opulent, unmistakable oeuvre refusing all categorization in the course of the past fifty years. Combining pictorial elements from a wide variety of popular sources reproduced in painting, his critical narrative collages unfold eloquent tableaus: reflecting essential social issues such as politics, war, science, art, and sexuality, Erró’s dense visual arrangements seem to be aimed at assembling a comprehensive atlas of images of the modern world. The exhibition at the Schirn will present the artist’s series of landscapes “Scapes” and – for the first time – his entire series of portraits “The Monsters” from 1967/68. Linking the two work groups, selected films by Erró from the 1960s will be screened.

The exhibition “Erró. Portrait and Landscape” is sponsored by Nomura Bank (Deutschland) GmbH. Additional support comes from the project “Fabulous Iceland – Guest of Honor, Frankfurt Book Fair 2011.”

Born Guðmundur Guðmundsson in Ólafsvík in 1932, Erró, who is regarded as one of Iceland’s foremost artists today, grew up on a remote farm in the country’s southwest. Before he turned to contemporary art, he had studied at traditional art academies in Reykjavík and Oslo and learnt the technique of fresco painting and mosaic art in Italy. In 1958, he joined the ranks of the international avant-garde when he settled in Paris. Initially decisively influenced by Surrealism which had come to life again in the postwar French capital, Erró, working in the context of the various forms of New Realism and Pop Art emerging in Europe and in the USA, developed a highly individual kind of critical, ironic collage painting in the mid-sixties by using pictorial elements as spread by the mass media which he reproduced in painting.

Erró has produced thousands of paintings since then, which, mostly in the form of series dedicated to a certain subject, unscrupulously combine fragments from the most different spheres (comics, caricatures, picture postcards, photographs, films, art reproductions, illustrated encyclopedias, catalogues, and magazines of all kinds) to dense, often disturbing visual assemblages. There seems to be no limit to the range of subjects, styles, and genres adopted by the artist. The gamut of his works, which frequently draw on contemporary historical events, spans from the ironic interpretation of Baroque apotheoses (“Baroquisme,” 1965–1968) to representations of Mao Zedong’s journeys through the Western world executed in the manner of Socialist Realism (“Chinese Paintings,” 1974) and political satires on the basis of comics and caricatures arranged to monumental triptychs. Relying on the endlessly repetitive and obsessive realm of images established by the consumer society, Erró has succeeded in creating a special pictorial history of the modern world. Yet, despite all provocations and breaches of taboos in terms of the contents presented, he has remained surprisingly true to certain conventions of traditional painting in his oeuvre. Thus, he has not only established a particular contemporary form of historical painting, but also resuscitated genres such as portrait and landscape painting in an original way. These genres will be presented in the exhibition at the Schirn in the form of a selection of Erró’s sprawling “Scapes” series, an unusual extension of classical landscape painting, and his series of grotesque double portraits titled “The Monsters,” which have not been on display for more than forty years after a gallery show in 1969.

The “scape” type of picture Erró developed in the mid-sixties provided the artist with an approach he would repeatedly return to and evolve into the common denominator of a series which may be regarded as the sum total of his production as a painter. These overwhelming large-format “landscapes” resulting from the artist’s examination of an explosively spreading consumerist and media culture confront us with a culmination of the features characteristic of Erró’s art such as the obsessive manner of dealing with reproduced pictures and the principle of accumulation. “Foodscape,” painted immediately after Erró’s first visit to New York, is a definitely programmatic work: the artist unfolds an endless “landscape” of food on a jam-packed surface of 2 x 3 meters. Chunks of cheese, cakes, pieces of meat, vegetables, fruit, sauces, and pastes merge to a dizzying panorama of Western affluent society. “Inscape” (1968), a work dedicated to human anatomy, “Planescape” (1970) in its apparently apocalyptic tenor, and the colorful “Birdscape” (1979) continue the principle of accumulating innumerable variations of one and the same motif. In his both critical and humorous landscapes oscillating between realistic pictorial fragments and abstract overall compositions, Erró has kept on reflecting upon subjects like sexuality (“Lovescape,” 1969), war (“Fishscape,” 1974), art (“Odelscape,” 1982), politics (“Reaganscape,” 1986), and science (“Science Fiction Scape,” 1992).

Having realized quite early on that the history of the twentieth century is mainly written by images, Erró has questioned the mechanisms of modern mass media in the classical medium of painting. It is above all in his “Scapes” where his personal vision of a critical encyclopedia of the totality of pictures spread by the mass media becomes manifest. The flood of pictures evoked by Erró’s paintings – it often took the artist several years to assemble the necessary pool of images – has become a reality in the meantime. The works’ visionary power has only become completely comprehensible against the background of today’s endless global transfer of images through the Internet. After their first presentation in Paris and Venice in the mid-1980s, the “Scapes” are now presented in context again for the first time at the Schirn.

“The Monsters,” a thirty-part series of paintings dating from 1967/68, is a group of works to be read as an ironic comment on the classical portrait genre. Erró’s grotesque gallery of prominent persons confronts each official likeness with a second, monstrously distorted face. Mostly taken from horror movie magazines, Erró’s atrocious grimaces present themselves as the celebrities’ otherwise hidden faces. They reveal some dark secret behind the dubious façade, caricature a supposed image, and thus change one’s view of the person concerned. Yet, since the selection of people from history and today’s world comprising such different heads as Ludwig van Beethoven, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Dante, Paul Klee, Sophia Loren, Marshall McLuhan, Mao, Socrates, Josef Stalin, and Albert Schweitzer follows no graspable concept, the pictures can hardly be understood as a form of direct critique. The artist’s tongue-in-cheek warning not to trust the official image of people too much rather seems to be a reaction to their representation in the media. The artist overturns alleged certainties such as the distinction between good and evil, true and false and challenges the viewer to form his or her own impression of the contradictory visual information he supplies. This also endows his “Monsters” with an unbroken relevance to the reality of today’s media society.

A number of still little-known film works by the artist from the 1960s will be screened to forge a bridge between the two workgroups, the landscapes and the portraits. “Grimaces” (1962–67) focuses on the unfathomable other side of the human countenance. Erró’s film portraits of 167 colleagues pulling faces constitute a grotesque anthology of the sixties’ international art scene unfolding to the accompaniment of a sound poem written by the Lettrist artist François Dufrêne; the artists featured include Marcel Duchamp, Claes Oldenburg, Carolee Schneemann, and Andy Warhol. The film “Stars” (1966/67) is exclusively based on reproduced picture material: the viewer is faced with a monotonous, seemingly endless sequence of female Hollywood stars’ portraits filing past – stars whose iconic glamour the exhausting repetition reduces to the absurd. Erró’s method of wearying accumulation so characteristic of him culminates in his film “Faces (Two Frames Story)” (1964–67). Thousands of ready pictures of faces from various sources – sportsmen, Native Americans, politicians, film stars, monsters, models, babies – are presented one after another in such a fast way that the single image become almost unrecognizable and dissolves in the seemingly unending stream of images.

Schirn Kunsthalle | Erró | Portrait and Landscape |

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