WOLFE VON LENKIEWICZ – L’ŒUVRE, HOUSE OF THE NOBLEMAN, LONDON
PREVIEW: 4 OCTOBER 2016, 8 – 11 PM
SHOW DATES: 5 – 9 OCTOBER 2016
OPEN DAILY: 10 am – 8 pm
FIRST FLOOR AT 40-41 CONDUIT STREET, LONDON, W1S 2YQ
RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 (0) 793 873 2167
In L’œuvre (His Masterpiece, 1886) Émile Zola portrays the epic struggle of Claude Lantier to paint his greatest work. Loosely based on Cézanne and Manet, Zola’s character embodies the now defunct notion of the ground-breaking artist struggling to create his final masterpiece. This paradigm was heavily satirised by Tony Hancock in The Rebel (1961) – by the sixties the cliché of the lone genius who changes history with his final great opus had become exhausted and absurd. Wolfe von Lenkiewicz revisits this mythological trope in an ironic re-enactment of the role, taking on the guise of Zola’s hero through the appropriation of great masterpieces from impressionism and post-impressionism – the movements prominent at the time of the novel’s setting.
Seurat’s chef-d’œuvre, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886), has collided with Gerhard Richter and Bridget Riley, the seamless fusing of these three great artists’ work, across time and geographies, destabilises the aura of the great masterwork, contaminating the arena of modernism with the spectral presence of contemporary ‘masters’ of postmodernism. The dilemma for artists today is that in a postmodern world they cannot produce their masterpiece, the work by the artist, and it is an act of hubris to try. The transnational contemporary artworld, with its fierce and competitive market is a world away from the bohemian art world of nineteenth-century Paris. However, by conflating the two Lenkiewicz inflects the notion of ‘the masterpiece’ into our time, causing a ‘post-historic’ frisson, a rupture of the modern with the postmodern.
There are surprising confluences between some juxtapositions; Gauguin’s Le Christ Jaune (The Yellow Christ, 1889) and Bacon’s Carcass of Meat and Bird of Prey (1980) share the motif of ribs; van Gogh’s portrait of the postman Joseph Roulin is a familial conflation of works by Sophie Taeuber-Arp and her husband Hans Arp; one of Gerhard Richter’s ‘white’ paintings almost bleaches out a negative rendering of Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus; a further questioning of origin and authorship occurs as the work is ‘signed’ by Manet.
Presiding over the exhibition is van Gogh’s portrait of Felix Rey, the psychiatric nurse who looked after the artist, sporting ‘horns’ due to its fusion with Hans Arp, framed by Morris Louis. This uncanny and menacing satanic figure, once healer and helper, now takes on the part of ‘Trickster’, standing in for the artist himself, who tricks the history of art into forging new works across the post-historic divide.
Richard Dyer © 2016
Richard Dyer is Editor in Chief of the art journal Third Text and author of the recent major monograph Wolfe von Lenkiewicz (Anomie Publishing, 2016).