Louisiana Museum of Modern Art opens "Franz Gertsch: Blow-Up"
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Louisiana Museum of Modern Art opens "Franz Gertsch: Blow-Up"
Installation view of the exhibition.



HUMLEBAEK.- The Swiss artist Franz Gertsch (1930-2022) is considered a pioneer of photorealism and a true master of the modern woodcut. The new exhibition in the Louisiana's West Wing presents a panorama of the artist’s work – large-scale paintings of the 1970s, iconic portraits of women from the 1980s, epic landscapes and nature close-ups from his last two decades, plus monumental woodcuts.

Franz Gertsch had his international breakthrough with the painting Medici (1971-1972, 4 x 6 metres). As the Swiss representative of photorealism, Gertsch presented the monumental group portrait at documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany, in 1972, just three years after he started working from photographs. Medici made him famous overnight. The highly detailed painting, with its almost supernatural abundance of colour, has not only gone down in art history as an icon of European photorealism, it has also become a cult image of contemporary history. In spring 1973, the canvas was a centrepiece of the Louisiana's Extreme Realism exhibition. Now, some 50 years later, it can be experienced here again – in the exact same spot in the West Wing.

Ever since his breakthrough, Gertsch used photographs, usually his own, as studies or “scores” for his works. Key subjects are portraits and landscapes – family pictures, portraits of his artist friends, representatives of the youth and music scene of the 1970s, monumental portraits of women.

While Gertsch stuck with figurative, true-to-life representation, he swapped his brushes for woodcutting tools for an extended period. From 1986 to 1995, he exclusively did woodcuts. The prints have extraordinary presence by their sheer scale. The product of painstaking, labour-intensive craft, they incorporate different kinds of wood, high-quality pigments and handmade Japanese paper. Working in this traditional technique, Gertsch developed a unique language of his own that once and for all expands every boundary of the medium. In the process, he also reinvented his painting. Soon, landscape and nature take centre stage.

Paintings and woodcuts

In his work, Gertsch crafted a new and singular concept of realism, which is intimately tied to his method of working. After a start in romantic painting, Gertsch, via his Pop art collages of the late 1960s, arrived at the large-scale photorealistic paintings and woodcuts he is internationally known for today. Realizing that it is about method, not style, he submitted to the visual appearance of the world.

Gertsch projected the photographic image onto a canvas or a wood plate on a monumental scale. With supreme skill, he meticulously converted the image into a painting or woodcut, an artistic transposition imbuing his images with an air of mystery. The process could take months, even years.

Blown up to epic proportions, the images occupy space differently, and are experienced differently. We not only view the images, we also seem to enter them. In his cropping and ability to switch between extreme close-up and panorama, between figurative and near-abstract, Gertsch approached reality in a singular manner, condensing fleeting images – split seconds documented – into timeless, ambiguous art.

In his last decades, Gertsch alternated between paintings and woodcuts. He often returned to the same subjects, painted on canvas or cut in wood.

Blow-Up

The exhibition is organized in close collaboration with the artist, who sadly passed away in December 2022. This is the last exhibition he personally helped prepare and the first major show of his work after his death. Moreover, it is the first comprehensive presentation of his work in Scandinavia.

Housed in the Louisiana’s West Wing, the exhibition presents Gertsch’s multi-facetted work and his singularly lucid view of the world. Blow-Up! embraces the full range of his subject matter (group scenes, close-up portraits, landscapes, vegetation) and media (painting, woodcut, gouaches).

In the exhibition’s first room, visitors are welcomed by Huaa…! (1969). The painting is Gertsch’s first photorealistic effort and is shown alongside early snapshot-derived portraits of his family and his circle of artists in Bern. Starting here, the evolution of Gertsch’s art can be traced chronologically.

The West Wing’s big, high-ceilinged room is devoted to the artist’s large-scale works from the 1970s, celebrating an age of youthful rebellion and capturing the lifestyle of a generation. Apart from Medici, there are portraits of the artist Luciano Castelli as a young man and his group of friends in Luzern, shown in individual close-ups or group shots, along with a work from the artist’s portrait series of American punk rock poet Patti Smith.

The exhibition continues with two monumental portraits of women, Irène (1980) and Silvia I (1998), showing the artist’s snapshot aesthetics yielding to a more timeless expression.

Gertsch took an almost 10-year hiatus from painting to dedicate himself to woodcuts. Two monumental, monochrome woodcuts, Rüschegg (1988-1989) and Schwarzwasser (1991-1992), a triptych measuring nearly 3 x 6 metres, mark a change in the artist’s focus from humans to nature. The monochrome woodcuts introduce a restrained, carefully tempered, poetic sobriety of colour and simplified means. This is also seen in his late large-scale paintings done in genuine ultramarine pigment extracted from the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli.

In the last rooms, paintings and woodcuts, early and late works, portraits and landscapes engage in dialogue, revealing parallels and recurring references between works that are far apart in time, and between different subjects and media, in a fascinating body of work embodying both continuity and change.

The exhibition will subsequently be shown at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg.










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