Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Verhoeven retrospective

Helen Verhoeven is a contemporary Dutch figurative painter and sculptor exploring themes of social order and vulnerability.  I’m sure that this is an oversimplification, and perhaps even misdirected, but these were the themes that seemed to link her works as we explored her retrospective exhibition at the Schunck in Heerlen last week.

The works fall into two broad categories.  The large paintings are strike me as more party scenes, described as Weimar-era burlesque, but which remind me of more Cabaret-style decadence.  The figures, as in Event One, are crudely indistinct, variously dressed, posed; naked,engaged, spread across the canvases, gazing outward frankly but not drawing viewers into the scene.  We debated whether this was style or symbol: I think she;s trying to say something, while others only saw balance of colours and composition.

Verhoeven 11Verhoeven 10

The more numerous categories was of women in various forms and poses.  Many were derivative representations of familiar works; most were naked.  The black and white ones, especially, evoked feelings of sadness or hopelessness among women in our group, while the men debated whether there was any erotic content.  I didn’t think so: the works certainly portray their subjects disconnected from their personalities.  They have crude attitudes rather than feelings, feelings implied in context without individual expression.

The long row of nudes painted on plexiglass, the high wall of black and white portraits, the table of heads, seem meant to be interpreted as aggregates rather than individuals.  In each, I could find one figure that I connected with, but never two.

Verhoeven 16Verhoeven 06

The works are not pleasant, but they are interesting.  Photos of the artist herself seem happy and relaxed, but she doesn’t seem comfortable in the themes she explores.  As art, I think it’s provocative but distant, inaccessible.

Hopefully, not meaningless.

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