|Although the artist has received critical acclaim in his homeland in the Netherlands with representation by Jaski Art Gallery, a museum retrospective, several books that include detailed sketches and studio portraits as well as a video of his process, there has still been some speculation over whether or not the work includes digitally manipulated photographs. Having seen the work in person I can see why people may be speculative...|
'The Only Living Boy In New York'
Decemeber 16, 2009- January 23, 2010
Sloan Fine Art
128 Rivington St. New York, New York 10002
Although I tried to avoid looking at any online images of Chris Berens's New York debut solo show, 'The Only Living Boy in New York,' a small image of 'Lady Day' appeared on a friend's site. At once I marveled at the distinct growth of the piece compared to it's predecessors; it's wondrous candy colored balloons, it's floating, mobile bell jar with a small, pale brunette within. I quickly closed the screen but it was too late, it had already permeated my consciousness and I would later go on to dream of it that night. In my dream I was speaking to my father, explaining to him what 'Lady Day' looked like, and how I felt about it. It is in this exact way that Berens has set his stake in America, by breaching the sleeping mind with his fantastical landscapes freckled with odd figures and hoards of ghostly spirit animals.
Seeing the work in person, in its ambitious entirety of 39 paintings, all amazingly composed within 2009, is another mania all together. For one thing, there has been a lot of controversy over whether or not the paintings are authentic in their execution. Although the artist has received critical acclaim in his homeland in the Netherlands with representation by Jaski Art Gallery, a museum retrospective, several books that include detailed sketches and studio portraits as well as a video of his process, there has still been some speculation over whether or not the work includes digitally manipulated photographs. Having seen the work in person I can see why people may be speculative, in some instances the work is so perfect it seems impossible that a pair of hands could have created some of the details. There are perfect tiny buildings, perfect tiny helicopters, perfect tiny bricks, while at the same time flawlessly intentional blurry and myopic sections, all without the appearance of brushstrokes. It must be said however, that the paintings are indeed real. Their anatomies are made up of manipulated ink and graphite on inkjet paper, assembled in collage form with book binding glue and coated with varnish.
Berens's curious technical process has been an organic undertaking, tailored specifically to his needs, born out of the urgency to document the fully materialized, ethereal world within his psyche that he has been cultivating since his childhood. Having gained substantial confidence and comfort with his complex technique, that faintly echoes surrealist parlor games and William Burroughs's cut-up texts, Berens's new work has increased in complexity and narrative. His color palette has shown a confident whimsical hand, with the inclusions of bubble gum pink and touches of flaming orange in his snow-laden cityscapes and quite dark nightscapes. These explosions of color illuminate the playful narrative that unfolds throughout the connected pieces, which has at its heart, an intimate love song between the artist, his partner and their unborn child.
Obsessively repetitive portraits of his partner Esther are paired with self-portraits, showing the two embarking on a journey across a foreign city, rich with architecture and blanketed with snow. Esther appears in nearly all of the works; she is cupped in the giant hands of Berens in 'The Compass', sleepily holding onto a buffalo in 'Counting Buffalo', trapped in a snow globe in 'Perpetual Attraction', pulled along in a ship in 'Bridges Over Half Moon River' and residing in all the pictured rooms of the Half Moon Hotel. As the muse to the body of work, she is also half creator of their child, who is rendered as a floating fetus, curled up in sleep in several of the works. The theme of incubation and captured space reveals itself in the situations in which Berens's places his heroine. Often Esther is seen within objects or rooms, her hands pressed against the "glass" of the object, her forlorn and curious face peering out. The ritual-esq repetition of Esther and the populous of the anodyne spirit animals is a signature of Berens's technical process and here it is fully flushed out by the doubles of Esther and the clusters of creatures. Each composition is densely populated with these figures within the landscapes, causing a feeling of claustrophobic excitement, a mood that is perhaps a testimony to the chaotic streets and architectural setting of New York City, a city where one can be lost among millions or found as the only one alive.
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