February 2-March 2, 2022
Alexander Berggruen is pleased to present The Natural World: Part I. This exhibition opened Wednesday, February 2 with a reception from 5-7 pm at the gallery (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York, NY [unceded Canarsie/Lenape lands]).
Included within The Natural World: Part I are works by:
This group show, presented in two parts, explores how the natural environment and the flora of domestic settings have evolved in contemporary painting, drawing, and sculpture. Certain works explore more traditional depictions of landscape and plant life, while others verge on surrealist adaptations of our known world. Part I explores historical works over the last six decades to generate rich context for the contemporary works that will be shown in Part II.
For some artists, “All becomes subject matter. As valid and just as ridiculous as painting a tree,” as Alex Katz stated. (1) Exploring landscape as a subject, how the natural world becomes objectified varies from artist to artist. In Katz’s distinct approach, forms are simplified into abstract shapes, translating a loose rendition of the landscape. His 1959 painting Lincolnville Beach depicts a vast body of powder blue water that occupies a majority of the composition, encouraging the structures on a pier to seemingly recede into the distance.
As an artwork may open a portal to view the world as the artist sees it, a viewer may fluctuate between seeing into this portal and being surprised by the use of the materials on the surface that have opened it. In speaking about her ocean drawings, Vija Celmins has described this ebb and flow in her work as, “That kind of double reality, where there’s an image, but the image is here in another form, and… when you look at the work, you have that double thing you should have all the time, where you’re looking at the making… a kind of redescribing of the surface, and the image is interwoven with that surface.” (2) Deeply interested in the possibilities and limits of drawing with graphite, Celmins has tenaciously explored her ocean motif by taking photographs of the sea and articulating them with acute attention to detail. Her Ocean series is defined by the absence of a horizon line, resulting in a composition filled with the texture of the ocean’s variable surface. In her 1973 Long Ocean, included in this show, the ocean fills and is contained within a long, thin rectangle in the drawing’s lower register, providing a glimmer of the ocean scene, almost as if peering through a viewfinder.
Much of the “natural world” has been molded by the human hand. In recognition of this paradox, George Condo calls his work “Artificial Realism”. Describing this term, Condo stated: “Our own experiences of the world are really all we can go off of. If you look up the word ‘artificial’ in Webster’s dictionary, the definition is ‘man made.’ And the world we live in is ‘man made.’ If you look up ‘reality,’ though, the definition is something like ‘that which exists independent of our perception.’ So according to this definition, if it’s out there beyond where we can perceive it, then it’s real. But what we generally describe as ‘concrete reality’ is actually the artificial.” (3) Evidenced in his 1994 painting The Egg Man, Condo adeptly portrays the absurd in a convincing fashion. Here, broken bottom halves of egg shells balance precariously on top of trees, and a figure looks up at them expectantly. In this window into Condo’s simulated world, eggs may grow on trees.
Nature is frequently employed as symbolism, though, often, a single subject can imply multiple contradictory interpretations. James Rosenquist explores this tension in his work. This exhibition features his 1989 collage Source for Incarnation Incantation which demonstrates the artist’s process in thinking about how to compose the natural world in painting. In speaking about this series, Rosenquist stated: “The division of the ideas in this series of paintings came from early settlers in America hiding in lakes or streams while a forest fire went by. […] The new thing is thinking that flowers are pretty, are colorful, and maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t. And also the fragments of faces can be sweet, or they can be demons.” (4)
Landscapes carry many associations, be it with abundance, freedom, or lack thereof, depending on an individual’s perspective and privilege. William Kentridge’s work implores a viewer to recognize that, often, land has been brutally fought over and has been stolen through colonialism. Kentridge’s The Head & The Load performance and related drawings confront land as a site of, and record of, colonialism. The artist’s 2018 Drawing for The Head & The Load (Landscape with Waterfall) depicts a waterfall with battle annotations, implying that this is not solely a peaceful landscape to behold but also a location where atrocities have occurred.
The Natural World: Part I demonstrates some of the expansive interpretations of the landscape and that which grows in it.
The Natural World: Part I ran at Alexander Berggruen (1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3) from February 2–March 2, 2022. The Natural World: Part II ran from March 9-April 13, 2022. The exhibition’s preview is available on request. For all inquiries, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Alex Katz, Jane Freilicher and Alex Katz: A Dialogue, 1964.
(2) Vija Celmins with Gary Garrels, Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory, SFMoMA exh. catalogue, 2018, p. 14.
(3) George Condo with Emily Nathan, “artnet Asks: George Condo Sees Faces and Screaming Heads Everywhere”, artnet news, October 14, 2015.
(4) James Rosenquist, “James Rosenquist by Mary Ann Staniszewsk”, BOMB Magazine, October 1, 1987.
Photos: Dario Lasagni
On the occasion of Alexander Berggruen’s two-part exhibition The Natural World, we are delighted to share a new editorial feature in which Kirsten Cave connects the works in both exhibitions and discusses the emergent themes. Driven by statements from the artists about their work, Cave acknowledges the historical condition of climate change and explores how “attitudes and approaches to The Natural World range from studies of subject matter, line, color, and form, to meditations on symbolism, history, and projection.”
This catalogue was published on the occasion of the gallery’s two-part exhibition, The Natural World: Part I (February 2-March 2, 2022) and The Natural World: Part II (March 9-April 13, 2022). Included within are images and details of the artworks featured in the exhibition, by artists including David Hockney, George Condo, Emma Webster, Sholto Blissett, Brittney Leeanne Williams, Scott Kahn, and Nicasio Fernandez, to name a few.
This publication also features two new essays, which draw connections between the works in both exhibitions and discuss the emergent themes, by Gallery Associate and writer Kirsten Cave, and curator and art historian Jayne Cole.