THE HISTORY OF NOW: THE COLLECTION OF DAVID TEIGER SOLD TO BENEFIT TEIGER FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Asylums of Mars occupies what the artist refers to as the “no man’s land between figuration and abstraction.” (The artist cited in an interview with Katarzyna Uszynska in Exh. Cat., Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Glenn Brown, 2008, p. 34) Emerging from the abstract mass of brushstroke is a woman’s nude figure, embedded within the oozing form of paint. Upon close inspection, what initially appears as a thickly textured and impastoed surface of rich color resolves into a glossy and smooth plane, one that possesses a remarkably alluring tactility. Against a deep black void, a billowing form of gaseous color takes shape. Whorls of oyster silver slide languorously into slips of aqua, ochre and rusty orange, oozing unctuously throughout vaporous teal furrows. The modeling of this gelatinous mass suggests a portrait of sorts: a figure represented in profile against a starkly black background. Brown has manipulated the varying tones of blue and white to create the illusion of light hitting the side of this form, the white ribbons of paint cascading down into the darker shadows of gray deep bronze and ultimately creating a solid physical presence. From this embroiled throng of luminescent color, hints of disembodied organs emerge: glassy bead-like eyes, torqued musculature, suggestions of lips that coalesce into a sensual women from this liquefaction of beauty and decay. A forest green triangle anchors the top right hand corner, suggesting a dog-eared page of a lovingly worn book, and insisting upon the flatness of this seemingly sculptural painting.
Although loosely suggesting a portrait, however abstract, the present work perhaps more accurately anthropomorphizes the human condition and the various facets of our psychology. Michael Bracewell writes: “…Brown’s paintings are all, in a way, psychological portraits. They describe accumulated thought as pictorial mulch, as though the pulses and currents of the mind could be seen as corporeal matter. The Freudian silage of lumpen subconsciousness is not merely given shape, color, and form by the artist, but brought to life to parade around in the raiments of elevated, enshrined, iconic beauty.” (Michael Bracewell, “Concerning the Art of Glenn Brown, in Exh. Cat., London, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2009, p. 68) The visual interplay of the odd and unfamiliar disguised by a seductive sheen creates an uneasiness that is both beguiling and revolting, captivating its audience yet repulsing at the same time. Indeed, the chilly cool colors crushing together in enchanting swirls become reminiscent of a corporeal deterioration, orifices and fissures of the flesh dissolving in morbid putrefaction. Juxtaposed with this visceral and iridescent mass is the lyrical, yet entirely elusive title, Asylums of Mars, implying both a psychological institution and celestial body. In the aforementioned catalogue, on which the present work features as the front cover, Rochelle Steiner writes: “By commingling known and unknown elements, and by calling to mind religion, mythology, science fiction, and other windows onto the world, Brown not only invites us to consider where we stand in the universe, but also encourages unsettling and provocative glimpses into what lies beyond.” (Rochelle Steiner, “Window to Another World,” in Exh. Cat., London, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2009, p. 15) Here, Brown presents a shadow of human psychology and an alternate view into our reality and our own understanding of reality, one that is attractive, dizzying, and haunting.
Fundamentally, Brown is a painter of paintings, appropriating and quoting the canon of art history by directly employing the terms of our contemporary experience of it – a visual encounter that is utterly mediated by an image-saturated culture of mass reproduction. By expertly wielding an anachronistic and precise Old-Master technique, Brown painstakingly mimics the immaculate two-dimensional sheen of the photographic reproduction that in turn elides any inference of human intervention. The mechanically reproduced and mass proliferated image becomes the platform through which Brown dissects, splices, mutates, and clones the already flawed replications of preexisting works of art. Furthermore, these commingled images and techniques elicit a cerebral reaction, an introspection that presents us with a looking glass that both reflects our own psychology and forces us to look beyond, eventually coming to terms with our place in the bewildering chaos of the cosmos.
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