David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by
Michaël Borremans, The Devil’s Dress, on display at the gallery’s 525 West 19th Street space.
Borremans’ drawings, paintings, and films present an evocative
combination of solemn-looking characters, unusual close-ups, and
unsettling still lifes. There is a theatrical dimension to his works,
which are at once highly staged and ambiguous, just as his complex
and open-ended scenes lend themselves to conflicting moods—
at once nostalgic, darkly comical, disturbing, and grotesque.
His paintings display a concentrated dialogue with previous art
historical epochs, yet their unconventional compositions and
curious narratives defy expectations and lend them an indefinable
yet universal character.
This exhibition, the artist’s fourth solo show at the gallery, brings
together paintings and a three-part work on paper that each
seems like a variant of a shared theme. Lone figures in pensive or semiconscious states are depicted squarely in
the center of the compositions; while their faces are mostly obscured, a psychologically-charged mood prevails.
Some are positioned within barren spaces reminiscent of an artist’s studio with planks or canvases arranged
against walls, while others are portrayed luminously against dark, monochrome backgrounds. Titles provide
simple but uncertain descriptions, which offer little help for unlocking the narratives.
In The Knives, Borremans depicts a woman with her head bent downwards. Several tears in her tightly-closed
jacket are visible and may refer to a preceding act of cutting or stabbing, as hinted at by the title. Yet the gap
between what is suggested and the visual information that is made available is amplified by the elusiveness
of the woman’s face, with her hidden gaze standing in for illegibility—a characteristic which recurs throughout
Borremans’ work. The bright light which illuminates her from an invisible source is stylistically reminiscent of Old
Master paintings and here intensifies the uncanniness of the scene and the unembellished, austere mood.
Borremans often pays detailed attention to clothes and textiles, as evidenced throughout the exhibition. Fabric
folds sometimes appear like visual representations of convoluted mental states and the clothes, themselves,
seem to transform their wearers into sculptural forms. In The Devil’s Dress, a male figure lies limp on a hard floor,
nude except for a stiff red “dress” wrapped around him like a coffin; the title of another work, The Wooden Skirt,
denotes the material of a nude-colored short skirt worn by a child, who seems spellbound and immobile.
As with Borremans’ work in general, such paintings emphasize the tension between representation and empirical
reality and point, by extension, to the impossibility of transparent, unmediated perception. As if a comment on
the longstanding debate about art’s approximation to life, which has been given new significance in the past
century with the implementation of photo-based imagery in the mass media, his works refuse to adopt a hierarchy
between the real and the imaginary.
Over the past decade, Borremans’ work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at a number of prominent
institutions, most recently in 2011 with the comprehensive solo show Eating the Beard, which was first on view
at Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart and traveled to Mú´csarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest, and Kunsthalle
Helsinki. In 2010, he had a solo exhibition at the Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo as well as commissioned work on view
at the Royal Palace in Brussels. Other solo exhibitions include kestnergesellschaft, Hannover (2009); de Appel Arts
Centre, Amsterdam (2007); La maison rouge, Paris (2006); Kunsthalle Bremerhaven, Germany; and the Museum
für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (both 2004). In 2005, he had a one-person exhibition of paintings and drawings at the
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent. The paintings then traveled to Parasol unit foundation
for contemporary art, London, and The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, while the drawings traveled to the
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio.
Work by the artist is held in numerous public collections internationally, including The Art Institute of Chicago;
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris;
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New
York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele
Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He lives and works in Ghent.
For all press inquiries, please contact
Ben Thornborough at David Zwirner 212-727-2070