Michaël Borremans: The Devil’s Dress is the artist’s fourth solo exhibition at David Zwirner in New York. Borremans’ art is heavily influenced by 18th and 19th century artists, including Édouard Manet and Diego Valázquez, and his painterly style recalls works from both the Romantic and Realist periods. “One of the reasons I consciously chose to work in painting is that you can’t use it only as a medium. It has this historical connotation, and either you want [that connotation] or you don’t want it. So if you paint, you should make use of that. It’s inherent to the medium, and it’s very important. If you don’t want it, take another medium. It’s as simple as that. Therefore this dialogue with other painting is to me very essential,” Borremans said in an interview in 2007.
Michaël Borremans, The Hovering Wood (2011). All images via David Zwirner.
Borremans’ The Knives (top) at first glance is simply a portrait. A girl stares downward, her focus unknown. The artist explains, however, that a portrait is never just a portrait. “They’re not about people that are depicted, or making a characteristic image of them that speaks for what they are. I just use this exterior form of a portrait so that you have certain expectations of it, but it doesn’t really work like a portrait. It doesn’t reveal anything or go where we’d expect it would go. So on the surface you have a portrait, but the content of it is just not there. There’s nothing there.”
The Loan, like The Knives, illustrates a similar disconnect between the subject of the painting and its title. The subject of the painting is a headless female mannequin whose limbs look entirely real. The skin folds at her elbows and the back dimples make this into a real body, yet instead of a head, the neck is topped with a metal collar. As in a store, the mannequin stands on a small square of floor, the setting too vague to identify.
Michaël Borremans, The Devil’s Dress (II) (2011)
Borremans’ paintings are united by their ambiguous, empty backgrounds containing a single subject. Each figure seems to be simultaneously contemplative and unconscious. The exhibition’s title comes from his 2011 painting The Devil’s Dress in which a figure lies face up on the ground of another warehouse-like space, wearing a stiff red cardboard dress. Despite the rich yellow-brown tones of the background and the warmth of the red, the entire space feels cool. Borremans’ paintings are haunted by peculiar figures with unreadable faces and emotions, warmly framed while remaining mysterious and distant.
- G. Linden