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Michaël Borremans: Fire from the Sun (Spotlight)

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David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by Michaël Borremans, inaugurating the gallery’s space in Hong Kong. In some fictional future, they might be unreliable carriers of this formative origin story or trauma.

The paintings live in the seductive space of metaphor and possibility, which can stretch beyond the artist’s intentions. He has since written extensively on modern and contemporary art and culture, and is a contributor to Burlington and frieze magazines. His selected writings on visual art, The Space Between, were published by Ridinghouse, London in 2011. Borremans uses the language of portraiture to draw in the viewer but then subverts our expectations and understanding of the works. Work by the artist is held in public collections internationally, including Art Institute of Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; 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.Seven years ago in his studio in Belgium, Michaël Borremans told me about the response to his painting Red Hand, Green Hand at an opening in Budapest. From the outset the artist understood he was taking a risk with the new works, precisely because of their open relationship with interpretation. They are untethered, directionless, forever waiting in a non-place, forever forced to repeat pointless actions that seem to have no beginning or no end. Even the gestures and postures of the figures, with slouched shoulders and downcast faces, seem to indicate resignation, as if they had long ago accustomed themselves to the purgatory of their existence. While the fire and (probable) cannibalism imply some sort of ritual, the works are most chilling as sketches of random violence, causal and instinctual.

That the painting had had an unintended and instinctive meaning signalled that “I had made a good work”, Borremans said. The exhibition traveled later in the year to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, followed by the Dallas Museum of Art in 2015.

I heard other interpretations while there, and so did the artist: that the paintings examine the loss of innocence, that they are a caricature of original sin, that they meditate on hypocrisy, that they demonstrate human capacity to be at once good and evil. Reminiscent of cherubs in Renaissance paintings, the toddlers appear as allegories of the human condition, their archetypal innocence contrasted with their suggested deviousness. In the most evident terms, Fire From The Sun portrays children aged two or three in various stages of play with fire and what appear to be human limbs, even hair. On the occasion of his inaugural exhibition Michaël Borremans: Fire from the Sun at the new David Zwirner space in Hong Kong (27 January–9 March 2018), I spoke with Borremans about his practice and his participation in the Biennale of Sydney (BoS) (16 March–11 June 2018). Hong Kong is an international city, a port city, a crux of world politics, world history and world finances.

The children are presented alone or in groups against a studio-like backdrop that negates time and space, while underlining the theatrical atmosphere and artifice that exists throughout Borremans’s recent work. As unsettling punctuation marks Borremans also included two large paintings of industrial apparatuses. The first in a series of small-format publications devoted to single bodies of work, Fire from the Sun highlights Michaël Borremans’s new work, which features toddlers engaged in playful but mysterious acts with sinister overtones and insinuations of violence. In some of the paintings the children are in the process of disappearing: phantom bodies not quite removed from their gruesome acts.

Some of Borremans' paintings, such as Automat (I) (2008), feature figures with truncated torsos or dismembered limbs, further suggesting that these are figures trapped by a pervading sense of futility. Published on the occasion of Borremans’s eponymous exhibition at David Zwirner in Hong Kong, this publication is available in both English-only and bilingual English/traditional Chinese editions. As Bracewell further notes on these works, they portray psychological states that are not intended to be decoded: “the scenes depicted by the majority of paintings comprising Fire from the Sun show a state of being or society in which the primal is uncontrolled, without bearings, in a state of anarchy―the Id of Freudian primary process run riot, with no Ego to mediate between instinctual behavior and ‘reality. David Zwirner presents an exhibition of new paintings by Michaël Borremans, inaugurating the gallery’s space in Hong Kong.

His recent publications include The Rise of David Bowie 1972–1973 (Taschen, 2016), Bridget Riley: Paintings and Related Work (National Gallery, 2010), and a short story, The Way Ahead (Sternberg Press, Berlin, 2018).

The image was widely interpreted as a symbol of Hungary’s political circumstance and even showed up on a large banner promoting the show. In this series of work, children are presented alone or in groups against a studio-like backdrop that negates time and space, while underlining the theatrical atmosphere and artifice that exists throughout Borremans’s recent work. Other venues which have hosted solo exhibitions include the kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2009); de Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam (2007); Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S. He was co-curator of The Secret Public: The Last Days of the British Underground 1978–1988 at Kunstverein Muenchen and The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 2006 and The Dark Monarch: British Modernism and the Occult at Tate St Ives in 2009. The previous year, Michaël Borremans: The Advantage, the artist’s first museum solo show in Japan, was on view at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.

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