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Louisiana Museum of Modern Art shows works by Cecily Brown from 1997 until the present
Cecily Brown, All the Nightmares Came Today, 2012. Oil on linen, 170,2 × 211 cm (67 × 83 1/16 in.) Iris & Matthew Strauss Collection, Rancho Santa Fe, California © Cecily Brown. Photo: Robert McKeever.

HUMLEBAEK.- Cecily Brown (b. 1969) is a British artist, but has lived in New York for the past 20 years. Ever since the beginning, painting and drawing have been her main artistic activities. Louisiana’s exhibition shows works from 1997 until the present and is her first major European museum presentation for many years.

The title of the exhibition quotes the more than 10-metre-long triptych from 2017, Where, When, How Often and with Whom, which is being shown in public for the first time. The title suggests a ‘plot’ indicating a place, a time and a relationship among human beings. But Brown’s works neither ask questions nor offer easy answers. The triptych in question comes at the end of the exhibition and is characteristic of what her pictures aim at. In an interview for Louisiana Magasin the artist has explained how a stone found on the beach at Louisiana has coloured the work, while press photos from ongoing global conflicts have provided material for it.

Brown works with many current issues, including the breakdown of the traditional gender roles, the politicizing of everyday life and the restless erotic energy of the times. She builds up tableaux with equal proportions of irony, heroism and elements from pornography. Despite the light touch, the artist often draws inspiration for her subjects from human conflicts. In a comment the artist says of the exhibition’s earliest work, Untitled (1997): “Good and evil can exist at the same time and in the same place. Even little rabbits may be gang-banged in a beautiful idyllic landscape on a day with drifting clouds and sunshine.”

Although her works are partly rooted in the long-standing traditions of painting, and in particular in the tradition of modernism from Manet onwards, the contemporary impacts perceptibly on the works. The works are created in the intersection between figuration and abstraction. The old masters – that is, the ones from before modernity – are in play in Brown’s works as in few other contemporary artists. Especially in her drawings, she draws on the works of other artists as models for studying and practicing compositions and subjects. In the titles there is usually a nod to them – Bruegel, Hogarth, Géricault, Degas, and Manet. We do not find the relation directly present in relation to the modern masters who also inspire her – for example, Joan Mitchell, Francis Bacon, Philip Guston, and Willem de Kooning.

One of the insights that the study of older art gives her is the belief in the body as a bearer of meaning. The body is not only a motif, it is also bodily sensation, a direct path into the works for the viewer. The bodies are rarely shown with facial features; nevertheless there are almost always eyes looking out, further activating the relation between work and viewer.

The exhibition offers an overview of Brown’s production over 25 years. The first room introduces a retro-spective view of the subjects and painterly strategies through 20 monotypes, all made in 2018. Here the artist – in the medium that comes closest to painting – gives her thoughts free rein to course back and forth over the years that have passed.

A good 35 paintings of all sizes, 80 drawings and monotypes, as well as a selection of source-images from her studio archives, are presented in the museum’s classic West Wing.

The exhibition is a natural continuation of Louisiana’s series of presentations of the contemporary painters including Peter Doig, Daniel Richter and Tal R.

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