David Claerbout's conceptual installation The Close receives U.S. museum premiere at Milwaukee Art Museum

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David Claerbout's conceptual installation The Close receives U.S. museum premiere at Milwaukee Art Museum
David Claerbout, The Close (still), 2022. Single channel video projection. black & white, 6 channel surround sound. 15 min 21 sec. © David Claerbout. Courtesy: the artist and Sean Kelly, New York.

MILWAUKEE, WIS.- This winter, the Milwaukee Art Museum is mounting the U.S. museum premiere of Belgian video and digital artist David Claerbout’s multimedia installation The Close (2022). With this presentation, the Museum bolsters its commitment to exploring the work of contemporary artists whose work pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplines and inspires new modes of thinking about our past, present, and future. Claerbout’s conceptual practice investigates the relationship between images and the passage of time, and with The Close, the artist merges innovative new technology with historic photographic techniques, demonstrating how the practice of photography has evolved in today’s digital age. The Close will be on view in the Museum’s Baker/Rowland Galleries from November 18, 2022, through January 8, 2023.

Conceived as a journey from the past to the future of the camera, The Close brings together a reconstruction of amateur footage made circa 1920 with a digital 3D rendering of that footage. Viewers watch as a silent scene of barefoot children in a brick-walled alley—a “close”—transitions from grainy footage of a child into a highly detailed portrait. The footage freezes on the figure and 24 distinct renditions of Arvo Pärt’s “Da pacem Domine” (2004) play simultaneously from freestanding speakers throughout the installation, creating an immersive experience. These competing scores offer audience members a wide range of differing encounters with the single image.

Claerbout complements the installation with six large-scale “processual drawings”. These hand-printed digital drawings are made through a new iterative mixed-media method that begins with renderings in washed Chinese ink and ends with pencil and gouache finishings. Unlike many artists who use drawings as blueprints or a storyboard for their films, Claerbout uses the medium to create epilogues for his video projects, reconnecting the virtual to the tactile.

“David Claerbout’s The Close is an homage to the history of the camera, an emotional retelling of the progression of photography and moving pictures,” said Margaret Andera, Interim Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum. “The work traces the proliferation of the camera in everyday modern life, deftly illustrating film’s trajectory from the novelty of its early days to its contemporary digital possibilities. Claerbout masterfully presents this evolution with nostalgia and nuance.”

Through its acquisitions, commissions, exhibitions, and interventions by living artists, the Milwaukee Art Museum cultivates fresh interpretations of the art historical canon. The Close continues the Museum’s commitment to showcasing projects that bring historical pieces and contemporary practices into dialogue. This is embodied by the Museum’s ongoing Currents exhibition series which began four decades ago and has since featured trailblazers such as Félix González-Torres and Tara Donovan, among others.

“A central part of the Museum’s mission is to identify and exhibit artists working today who are innovators in their fields,” stated Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. “Our presentation of The Close continues the Museum’s legacy of mounting groundbreaking projects by both emerging and established artists, and we look forward to welcoming audiences to experience this profoundly moving work later this year.”

David Claerbout (b. 1969, Kortrijk, Belgium) has built a career investigating the conceptual impact of the passage of time through his use of video and digital photography. The element of sound is critical in many of the works, often used as either a narrative device or a “guide” for the viewer to navigate the architectural space on screen. Claerbout’s oeuvre is characterized by a meticulous attention to production details, painstakingly created often over a period of years. The resultant works are immersive environments in which the viewer is invited to engage both philosophically and aesthetically.

Claerbout studied at the Nationaal Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp from 1992 to 1995 and participated in the DAAD: Berlin Artists-in-Residence program from 2002 to 2003. Claerbout’s work is included in major public collections worldwide, including Centre Georges Pompidou Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, among others. David Claerbout lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium, and Berlin, Germany.

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