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Documentary on Michaël Borremans

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:12 am
by CAP
Here is a 50 minute You Tube on Michaël Borremans. It’s in Flemish/Dutch but it has English subtitles. It pretty much tells you everything you wanted to know about the artist. In that respect it is an exemplary documentary on a contemporary artist.

As you might guess from his paintings, he turns out to be a bit of a young fogey (50ish) - complete with tweed jacket, sensible trousers and shoes, immaculate studio, impish little face, cycling around Ghent, I think it is, with his young daughter, scrupulously photographing his subjects or treating them like sculptures on short 16mm films. Very retro, natty, self-effacing, shrewdly conservative, modest to a fault really, which is probably why I’ve never really been sold on the stuff. The reason I sat all the way through this is because basically this is artist’s porn. You swoon over his fabulous, immaculately orderly studio, all that space! Those full length windows and adorable little wood-fired heater! He even splits his own logs! The custom-built racks and drawers! Not even full! His library! In his studio! His late-model silver-grey Merc estate – for ripping down to Antwerp for shows at that pokey little Zeno place, I forget it’s name now… Zeno X? Lobbing over to NYC for shows at Zwirner, where the Dutch agent, a young lady with a gaunt but not unattractive face that looks like it comes straight out of a Northern Renaissance portrait, breathlessly reports that the artist has gone mega stateside. They can’t keep up with demand! Public collections are onto him! He’s super-hot right now! Although this video is a couple of years old I think, so the heat may have abated slightly. Anyway you get the picture. I’m limp and drooling over the life of a fabulously successful painter. I can’t get enough of him cruising around in the Merc deciding he’s got to stop working so hard…

Yeah right. For recreation he plays guitar in a band made up of artists and dealers. They’re like Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in Flemish. Oh it’s a bad scene, you better believe it – edgy! He plays us a little Country tune in his hotel room in Manhattan. He is such a talented guy. He is a huge-huge fan of Velázquez which makes sense when you think about it. But I’d assumed it was Velázquez via a long line of academic plodders – you know – basically building up your tones closely on a warm base, hitting it with the generous highlights to really kick out. Me I’d go for Hals. It always works of course but it’s everywhere, has been for the last three hundred years and most painters skip the old master bit, try other things. For some reason the artist and film crew go to Vienna to check out the Velázquezs and the artist runs us through the highlights thing. If they’d gone to The Prado they could have checked out The Surrender of Breda, heh heh heh... But apparently The Prado just blows Michaël away so much he has trouble getting back to work. I have that trouble.

I can see why Neo Rauch likes the stuff (Rauch wanted Borremans to replace him at the Leipzig Academy a few years ago when he quit – controversially, his wishes were ignored). There is this sense of people being treated as guinea pigs or vaguely scientific subjects that chimes with Rauch’s figures engaged in absurd projects (industrial or scientific) or public parades. Borremans sometimes uses tiny models or toys, to grant this distance, again something that overlaps with Rauch’s work. But where Rauch liked to leave things as just stereotypical illustrations, hopelessly inadequate proxies, Borremans goes for the old master bit and ends up wallowing in academic restraint. Occasionally things turn sketchy or fragmentary. Objects often hover inexplicably in his pictures, above or in front of people. The feeling is not quite like Magritte (although there is one American critic/curator in the video who tactfully draws the comparison) because Borremans works at a darker, more intimate atmosphere. It is enough for Magritte to declare a pictorial conundrum, for Borremans it must have a psychological charge, an almost Bressonian immanence to the figures. Although he usually works from photos, unlike Tuymans, the paintings are not about declaring that source and distancing it. Borremans just wants those lighting nuances photography effortlessly delivers; that tradition. Sometimes the framing suggests a close-up but its significant he prefers a vertical or portrait format to a landscape one. If you wanted to really push the movie side you’d go for one of those standard aspect rations (Academy - 1:1.87 say, from memory) but Borremans is really targeting iconography over style. Figures often avert their gazes; underline the inward concentration, the disconnection from baffling circumstances. We feel for them, in an old masterly way. The small scale (40 X 35cm average) adds to the intimacy. The pictures often feature period costume and grooming, increasing the feel of a sample for time and place, but the activities and props are mostly oblique, as absurd as a Rauch but without the deadpan deconstruction. The artist wants to be a Hals or ter Borch (as much as a Velázquez) given over to remote social programming, obscure manipulation, faltering diligence.

It’s the old master thing that puts me off. In this he’s actually closer to John Currin. Where Currin flaunts old master facture at the expense of mangled drawing, attempts to challenge hardcore porn with Rubenesque finish, to revive one or rescue the other; disturb received discretions, Borremans chases an existential tenor in quaint documents. I think mostly what we end up with is tidy demonstrations of virtuosity, bereft of any more sustained commitment. They both short circuit. Currin is clearly decadent in a way that Borremans is not, of course, but for Borremans the problem is all that restraint is a little too tasteful and academic. Often the poses look like a mockery of life classes or portrait sittings, but this is really minor stuff, a feeble return. I might slam someone like Natalie Frank for her melodrama, but the opposite end of the spectrum is no more appealing.

Re: Documentary on Michaël Borremans

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:24 pm
by jasperjoffe
your review is so satisfying I dont need to see this film!

Re: Documentary on Michaël Borremans

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:28 pm
by CAP
It is nicely made though. :)

Re: Documentary on Michaël Borremans

PostPosted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:23 pm
by CAP
This Canadian guy prefers Borremans to Rauch. :shock:

Re: Documentary on Michaël Borremans

PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2013 11:37 am
by Corr
oo thank you CAP :D