Unlike his younger brother Balthus, Pierre Klossowski rarely enjoyed critical and popular acclaim in Europe as an artist during his lifetime, receiving even less attention from scholars and curators in the United States. However, his expansive oeuvre in drawing, in addition to his work in literature and translation offers an uncharted window to the cultural progressions of 20th century Western culture, complemented by his impressive painted oeuvre. Gladstone Gallery’s Brussels location is currently presenting a selection of works on paper by the artist, dated to the ‘80s, when the artist had finally focused his attention solely around art making. Before his late venture into art, Klossowski wore many different hats in his early years, translating works by Wittgenstein, Kafka, Nietzsche, and most importantly de Sade, whose notorious novel The 120 Days of Sodom was reprinted in the ‘60s under his helm, and led to the creation of one of Pasolini’s most notorious filmic adaptations.
Not unlike the literary masterminds Klossowski spent much time studying, his own work as an artist stems from a complex interpretation of sexuality through the lens of the 20th century European discourse. From a Freudian approach to its dynamics, through to a Sadeian representation of excessive carnal desires, sexuality dominates the artist’s large drawings in life-size scales that heighten the prevalent bacchanals depicted. Inspired by the namesake protagonist in Klossowski’s 1954 novel Roberte ce soir, a woman figure named Roberte appears in a number of illustrations, engaging in various encounters that range from sexual to obscure. In hazy tones of red, brown and blue, human figures, either nude or with little covering, recall Mannerist paintings with their impossibly long torsos and disproportioned limbs. Through their equally ghostly and human presences, men and women—occasionally in non-binary gender representations—convey determination in their actions, while suggesting a distinct ethereality with their spectral auras.
Klossowski’s powdery color palette imbues a dream-like, hallucinatory ambiance to his drawings, even when their narratives embody bleak details. In Roberte aux barres parallèles, his muse is nude below the waist, with arms tied up above her head, rooted in a composition that excludes any neighboring detail except a man who puts his tongue on her hands (which he’s forcefully holding). Just fitting into the frame, the life-size drawing combines Weimar Era’s sexual promiscuity with a dark twist that complicates its true scenario. Having worked as Andrè Gide’s secretary at a young age, Klossowski unsurprisingly looks for inspiration in homoerotic aesthetics, most evidently in Charmide se soumettant à l’incantation de Socrate, which illustrates a young boy as the subject of adoration for a draped older man, all amidst a Grecian setting.
These explorations of eroticism are a fitting parallel to the rest of Klossowski’s work as an intellectual, and equally serve as a fascinating counterpoint to his brother’s work, both offering new wrinkles and nuances in their respective practices, and in the intellectual threads of the 20th century avant-garde.
Klossowski’s work is on view at Gladstone Gallery through March 10, 2018.
Gladstone Gallery [Exhibition Page]