The Frist Center for the Visual Arts
will open Paint Made Flesh Friday, Jan. 23, 2009. Featuring 38 works created since the 1950s, primarily in Europe and the United States, the exhibition focuses on artists of three generations whose depictions of the human figure denote biological, psychological or spiritual volatility. These artists use a wide range of painterly effects to suggest the physical properties and metaphorical significance of human flesh. Organized by the Frist Center, Paint Made Flesh will be on view through May 10. The exhibition will then travel to The Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.) and the Memorial Art Gallery (Rochester, N.Y.). A full-color catalogue, published by Vanderbilt University Press, will accompany the exhibition.
In conjunction with the opening of Paint Made Flesh, a major symposium will take place Jan. 23–24, 2009, featuring lectures by artist Eric Fischl and keynote speaker John Elderfield, Ph.D., chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in addition to five noted professors and curators.
“The exhibition and symposium will demonstrate that expressionistic figure painting has been a vital, if undervalued practice in recent times,” says Mark Scala, M.A., chief curator of the Frist Center who organized the exhibition. “We hope to encourage our visitors to think about the human body in the context of their own experiences and identities, but also as a mirror of society as it has gone through dramatic changes the past 50 years.”
“Our chief curator, Mark Scala, has organized an important reconsideration of postwar painting,” says Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D., executive director and CEO of the Frist Center. “As a painter and historian, Scala brings a fresh yet learned eye to the selections made for Paint Made Flesh. His selections break new ground by bringing together for the first time paintings by artists rarely seen in the context of one another. Major works by British painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are presented alongside German Neo-expressionism and American Social Realism to stunning effect. We are pleased that this important exhibition will also be seen in Washington, D.C. and Rochester, N.Y. after it closes at the Frist Center.”
The exhibition begins with a late self-portrait by Pablo Picasso, whose determined humanism and interest in depicting sensuality were an inspiration for many of the painters in the exhibition. The first section presents American artists working in the immediate post-World War II period through the 1970s who portrayed the distressed figure as a sign of the tragic aspects of human experience. Ivan Albright, Hyman Bloom, Jack Levine and Alice Neel represent a generation of Social Realists painters active before the war, whose images create a strong sense of empathy for the plight of the individual in conflict with society, a theme also present in the work of Philip Guston. Works by Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Willem de Kooning and David Park reflect the strong influence of German Expressionism on postwar American painting in New York and California. While the artists’ magnification of human imperfection often reflected their own emotional states, it was also frequently related to the existentialism that marked post-World
War II culture.
The next section includes artists who came to prominence during the 1970s and 1980s and revisited the visceral approach to painting practiced by early 20th century Expressionists as a remedy to the emotional detachment of high modernism and a response to the anxiety of an era that began with war in Vietnam and ended with the end of the Cold War. The second section includes works by Karel Appel, Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, A. R. Penck, Susan Rothenberg and Julian Schnabel, who sought to express primal truths culled from fragments of dreams, archaic styles, folk imagery and personal obsessions.
Paint Made Flesh continues with paintings by Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Cecily Brown, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Jenny Saville, which convey a distinctly British approach to the representation of abject flesh as a sign of personal and social vulnerability. For these artists, the application of paint as a correlate of skin involves the building up or scraping away of the surface as a record of the impact of the world on the individual psyche.
The final section features recent works by Tony Bevan, Wangechi Mutu, Albert Oehlen and Daniel Richter whose dazzling range of painterly effects shows the body in a state of flux or dissolution. Their paintings seem apt today, when new genetic research, prosthetic devices and artificial organs have altered our understanding of the relationship between the body and the self.
This section will also include portraits from the late 1990s to 2006 by Michael Borremans, Francesco Clemente, John Currin, Eric Fischl, Arnaldo Roche-Rabell and Lisa Yuskavage, in which the skin functions as either a topographical map indicating the absorption of powerful social and natural forces external to the individual, or an artificial and idealized membrane, signaling the contemporary capacity to reconstruct one’s actual visage into a simulation of
The paintings exhibited in Paint Made Flesh are on loan from galleries, private collections and a number of institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Tate Britain and the Whitney Museum of American Art.