Galerie Perrotin, Paris
October 17 – January 30, 2021
There are, it seems, hundreds of ways to make art, and probably a few less to make painting. Pop then minimal, neo-expressionist then Bad, and neo-geo at the same time, painting has successively invested an exciting litany of conceptions in previous decades – it even appears that only recently it was in a “zombie” state. For a long time, it was criticized for being “decorative” (probably because it is hung on walls) and for being, of all the art forms, the most bourgeois and least contemporary (because there are so many new, cooler art forms). Although it may be rehabilitated today, or at least perfectly uninhibited, painting takes advantage of the simplicity of its apprehension: everything is, if not on the surface, then at least in the rectangular surface that the viewer apprehends at a glance. If done properly, it sets our own X-rays in motion and, through it, we see others made by other artists and at other times.
The exhibition that Pieter Vermeersch has created for Perrotin Paris – his sixth solo exhibition for this gallery, the third in Paris – will not, it is to be feared, reassure those who are worried about his art in general and his conception of painting in particular. Worrying, indeed, because without equivalent – but with enough historical reference points to give our X-rays something to work on.
Vermeersch‘s artwork feeds on all the antagonisms of the discipline, seeking, for example, to be both figurative (it always has a photographic source, and these photographs are always made by Vermeersch, even when they are what he calls “accidental”) and abstract (because these “accidental” photographs often only have to offer a few informal color variations). Even when the canvas is “abstract“, it is paradoxically fabricated as a photorealistic painting, the photographic image being reproduced in it through a meticulous system of grids. Of the canvas, it sometimes only retains the format, leading it towards other media: in the Paris exhibition, the first room includes silkscreen prints on marble and the last room displays a set of oil paintings on fossilized wood – a wood that, as Vermeersch puts it, time has “mineralized”. In the marble silkscreen prints, “matter becomes image” in favor of an “industrialization of pointillism“.
Vermeersch‘s art is neither illustrative nor narrative: in short, art is its only crutch. His process often starts from the materials – for example, images of marble are silkscreened onto the marble and the image is enlarged to such an extent that each grid dot shows the support around it – and from the virtues and personal stories that the artist projects onto them. The works, and even more so the exhibitions, translate into a physical experience Vermeersch’s scientific and poetic reflections – reflections which focus on time and space. This is not a program that the viewer should decipher or identify traces of in the works and exhibitions (the works are not the literal translation of a thought) but, say, the source from which they flow. Without ever renouncing oil painting on canvas, the artist’s constant experimentation with new techniques (here, silkscreen printing on marble) and new materials (fossilized wood) charges the work with diversity and complexity.
The moment of the exhibition, for Pieter Vermeersch, is truly a moment of crystallization that goes beyond the presentation of the works. More precisely, his exhibitions are ingenious systems – of perception, reflection, apprehension – which put into practice in a more literal way the divisions of time and space. The “room divider”, work of Pieter Vermeersch and OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, that contradicts the first room – made of slats (mirror on one side, image on the back) and shaped like a comma – punctuates the movement of the spectator, “slows down” the visit, poeticizes the space and multiplies the possibilities of framing the gaze. The paintings and the space of the room are reflected in this mirrored curve, and the white cube is shattered – Vermeersch shapes the context in such a way that, according to his beautiful formula, it is less a question of seeing the works than of discovering them. In doing so, he also takes a step in the direction that is opposed to the “civilization of access” that characterizes the contemporary age.
The ingenious moment of the exhibition is also when the wall works are temporarily confronted with the materials and colors of this “room divider”: in the Paris exhibition, the polycarbonate and the mirror, industrial products, stage the marble and wood in a conflicting manner. Similarly, the works themselves expose conflicts between the industrial and the natural, for example, through the application of the chemical components of screen-printing ink on raw marble. Conflictual or as “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella?”. The system that makes up Vermeersch’s exhibition organizes the viewer’s experience of these conflicts in a way that also keeps logic at bay.