Miquel Barceló needs no introduction in the world of contemporary painting. He has been one of Europe’s most celebrated contemporary artists since the 1980’s.
He has also, over the course of the last 20 years, produced intriguing sculptural ceramic vessels. His current exhibition, Courant Central at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong showcases both recent paintings and ceramics produced between 2011 and 2013.
The 13 paintings in the exhibition are largely divided into two series. The first group is comprised of highly textured, all-white paintings, formed of heavily-layered pigment and vinyl, referencing natural phenomenon such as currents, islands, gravity, wind and water.
Another series of paintings is influenced by the paleolithic cave paintings in the “Chauvet” cave in Southern France. Executed in multi-layered black, blue and white pigments, they depict swirling herds of abstracted animal heads, successfully reinterpreting these ancient wonders for a contemporary world.
But it is the ceramics that brings the attentions of CFile to this exciting exhibition.
Produced from what the artist calls the “poor earth of my native village”, (in Mallorca, Spain), his low temperature fired, buff-colored earthenware vessels are both expressionistic and figurative. He starts with familiar forms: baluster-shaped jars, bottle vases, buckets and milk jars. He then mutilates, slashes, carves, tears and paints them, until they resemble collaborations between Peter Voulkos and Pablo Picasso.
Two of the six ceramic objects have large faces carved deeply into their thick walls. Eyes gouged and features formed of deep, vigorous scratching, the results are particularly virile and playful, and make clever use of the medium. The surfaces are also decorated with expressionistic splashes and strokes of thin, brown iron oxide and black, adding compliments and counterpoints to the manipulations of the clay body.
The artist has successfully integrated the ceramics and paintings around them, blurring the differences between the two media and exploiting the qualities of each to achieve similarly-powerful results. The high-shouldered jar entitled “Mustang” 2013, is covered overall with a swirling landscape in relief punctuated with figures, perhaps referring to the cave paintings. A bucket form has primitive animals painted in brown around slashes and gouges in the vessel, which might portray the point of impact of the hunter’s spears.
One of the great joys of this exhibition is that ceramics continue to be de-ghettoized, both in terms of placement and price, and are treated equally with the paintings of this great artist. And give credit where it is due, Barceloa has been a leader in this reform for two decades now.
Below you will find a link to a virtual exhibition space for Courant Central. The page, similar to Google Street View, allows you to navigate through the museum by clicking on arrow icons. You can read more about the works on display by clicking on the camera icon near each of the works.
Eric Zetterquist is CFile’s New York Editor.
Above image: Installation scene of Miquel Barceló’s virtual exhibition at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong. Pictured here: Siddhartha, 2012, ceramic and Place de Taureaux, 2013, pigment and vinyl on canvas.
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