World of Skin


Berlinde De Bruyckere: Into One-Another to P.P.P.
Hauser & Wirth, NYC

Through April 23, 2011

"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! How like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me, no, nor woman neither...." Hamlet's despair. The existential dilemma. Before his untimely death at the hands of a trick gone bad, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Gospel According to Matthew, Accattone!, and Salo) captured the ruins of post-WWII Italy -- and the metaphoric inner decay of its people -- by showing the beauty of man corrupted. Belgium artist Berlinde De Bruyckere pays homage to Pasolini and the history of Northern Renaissance masters in the exhibit Into One-Another to P.P.P. currently at Hauser & Wirth, New York.

In his films, Pasolini presents his distrust of all things beautiful -- his desolate housing project settings, his rent-boy pretty actors, even his choice of material, all seemed to point to an inherent vice in the fabric of humanity. Beauty, no matter how divine, his works seemed to say, will be paid for eventually. Blood In. Blood Out. This reckoning was at the heart of the Northern European Renaissance also. In contrast to the Italians with their celebration of Beauty, their glorification of the figure, and their theatrical scenes, artists such as Dürer, Rogier van der Weyden, and Jan van Eyck depicted a harder, colder, more tempered view of humanity.

De Bruyckere has combined Pasolini's interest in Catholic ritual, Renaissance painting (though he also had a fondness for Francis Bacon), and literature into a series of drawings and sculptures that depict life-sized figures in various states of flayed grandeur. In three pieces entitled Into One-Another to P.P.P. (2010–2011), life casts of dancers writhe, twist, and sprawl, exhausted, like the cast-off flesh of St. Bartholomew, or Buffalo Bill's victims in The Silence of the Lambs. Gray, exsanguinated, and waxy, the flesh of these beings reflects the pallor of a van Eyck or van der Weyden painting. Into One-Another II (2011) is a tangle of flayed flesh and tree branches, suspended on a makeshift stretcher; presumably a fresh kill dragged out of a watery grave, much like the first victim Detective Starling encounters. Like Buffalo Bill, De Bruyckere seems driven to create not out of a sense of hatred for humanity, but out of an internal sense of what Ideal Beauty really is. Blood In. Blood Out.

Taking things apart and putting them back together, a la Rodin or Dr. Frankenstein, drives the sculptures. In her accompanying drawings, De Bruyckere ventures into the animal kingdom, combining the figure with such animal elements as deer antlers. Romeu My Deer (2011) and The Wound (2011) suggest lessons learned from Joseph Beuys, who said of his references to stags, bees, and hares:

The hare is directly related to birth.... For me the hare is a symbol of incarnation. In reality, the hare does what man can only do mentally: digging inside, digging a construction, a grave.... Humans are able to think, to propose ideas, not to produce honey.... In this way the deathly nature of thinking becomes vital again...human thought can be alive, although it can also be intellectualized to the point of death through the same process, and may remain dead, expressing its cadaverous nature in politics and pedagogy.

De Bruyckere, like Beuys, points to an alternate view of humanity; though tortured in execution, it suggests the potential of rebirth, transformation, and hope. Blood In. Blood Out...and the rest is silence. - Bradley Rubenstein

Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.