Theatrical, lavish, over the top, bizarre – in a word, Baroque. A sometimes somewhat glossed over period and artistic genre, the Baroque numbered several huge personalities among its protagonists. From Caravaggio – the undisputed master of light – to Rubens; from Bernini – the very first achistar – to Borromini; from Bach – the Aristotle of the music world – to Handel and Vivaldi. Baroque art is sumptuous and spectacular, made up of curving lines and animated surfaces, strong contrasts of light and shade and a lust for dramatic effect. Above all else, the idea was to amaze. Is it not just like that today? Are the directors of special effects films not the painters of the past? What about artists like Jake and Dinos Chapman, Takashi Murakami or Carla Arocha and Stephane Schraenen? With a good, contemporary, pinch of the grotesque and the macabre, irreverence and extravagance, excess and artificiality, obviously.
This may have been what Luc Tuymans had in mind with his own very personal re-reading of fifteenth century art, placing the figure of the artist and his role in society centre stage, and juxtaposing old masters with contemporary art in an original and unexpected way. This is what has informed the exhibition Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque at the Prada Foundation. It is an intense visual experience made up of more than 80 works by 63 international artists, over 25 of them being shown exclusively here.
In this exhibition, Tuymans is seeking authenticity, the political value of artistic representation, the emotional turmoil aroused by art, the glorification of the personality of their author and the international dimension of making art, recognising the Baroque as the interlocutor of choice for contemporary art. Sanguine not only pushes the boundaries of the actual conception of Baroque, extending it right into the present, and also demonstrates the way in which artists have attempted to redefine it over the last two centuries, from its negative reception from the art critics of the late eighteenth century to its Post-Modernist re-evaluation and the reaffirmation of Baroque and figurative artistic expression of the last few years.
The title of the exhibition – a word that signifies the colour of blood, the violent and essentially vigorous temperament of a person, as well as a painting technique – suggests a multitude of perspectives through which the works on exhibit with their mixture of violence and simulation, cruelty and theatricality, realism and exaggeration, disgust and wonder, terror and ecstasy, can be interpreted.
Luc Tuymans suggests that Caravaggio – whose work Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1595-96) and David with the Head of Goliath (post 1606) – was the first to break free of classical and mannerist tradition thanks to the psychological realism expressed through his innovative pictorial language, embodying the spirit of the Baroque artist and the desire to communicate with the public through the power of representation. Alongside him in the exhibition are works by Guido Cagnacci and Andrea Vaccaro, Antoon van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens, Francisco de Zurbaran and Johann Georg Pinsel.
In Sanguine, Luc Tuymans also brings together work by very diverse contemporary artists and identifies ideas, dynamics and themes characteristic of Baroque art. In these works the idea of corporeality and physicality displayed, broken down and hyper-realistic prevails, rendered through a variety of expressive means: painting, sculpture, photography, drawing, installations and video.
There are works that have a powerful visual and emotional impact on the visitor, such as Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Fucking Hell (2008), in which the grotesque face of terror is embodied by 60,000 toy soldiers inside large showcases either dishing out or on the receiving end of violence, and Nosferatu (The Undead) (2018), a video-installation by Javier Tellez which explores cinematographic memory and the isolated state of people with mental illnesses. On Kawara’s Thanatophanies series of lithographs (1955-95) depicts the deformed faces of victims of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the bloodless child in Michael Borremans’ Sleeper (2007-08) express the human reaction to the horrors of war. The macabre vulnerability of the victims in Rubens’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1614) is also the main subject of the installation Flanders Fields (2000) by Berlinde De Bruyckere and the painting Dead Girl (2002) by Marlene Dumas. Fragility and monumentality rub shoulders in Luciano Fabro’s marble, lead and glass sculpture Il Giorno mi Pesa sulla Notte I (1994), and the installation Room with Unfired Clay Figures (2011-15) by Mark Manders, and also in the works by Cheikh Ndiaye and Diego Marcon. The signs of excess and kitsch evident in the wooden sculptures executed in 1758 by Johann Georg Pinsel are also manifest in works in the exhibition by artists such as Jacques-Andre Boiffard, Roberto Cuoghi, Kerry James Marshall and Takashi Murakami. The beauty of form that conceals dramatic and intimate content is explored in works by John Armleder, Lili Dujourie and Giuseppe Gabellone, but is already palpable in the sensuality of the dying Cleopatra painted in the early 1600s by Guido Cagnacci. The dynamism of the figures portrayed and the co-existence of comedy and tragedy in the same scene are equally apparent in Andrea Vaccaro’s canvas Trionfo di Davide (1650) and in When the Going is Smooth and Good (2017) by Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque
2 Largo Isarco
From 18th October 2018 to 25th February 2019