Blain|Southern: Francesco Clemente - Tents - 21 Sept 2013 to 9 Nov 2013
Taking Refuge (detail), 2013
Tempera on cotton and mixed media
600 x 400 x 300cm
21 September 2013 – 9 November 2013
Private View: 20 September, 6–9 pm
Potsdamer Straße 77–87
"To analyse Francesco Clemente’s painting is inevitably to look into the world of modern dreams and desires."
– Norman Rosenthal
The directors of Blain|Southern are delighted to present Francesco Clemente’s first solo show in Berlin in six years. The exhibition comprises three large-scale canvas tents, with every aspect of the exteriors, interiors, walls and roofs painted in intricate detail.
First used as dwellings over 3000 years ago, tent-like structures present an environment of shelter that can be traced back to antiquity. Clemente’s tents engage with this long history but are characterised by a discontinuity or fragmentation of context, bringing together myriad cultural and art historical references. Each of the structures immerses the viewer in a rich, colour-infused environment that melds Eastern and Western traditions of art, philosophy and religion, reflecting the artist’s nomadic desire not to belong.
Produced in India, Clemente describes these tents as his ‘cave paintings’ which can be sheltered and slept under, or daydreamed and prayed within; these are movable chapels for contemplation of the sacred in a modern age defined by digital speed. Expanding the traditional relationship between art object and viewer, these paintings function by enveloping and surrounding the viewer to evoke an experience of painting that is both seen and physically felt.
Standing With Truth (2013) is titled after a poem by the mystic Indian poet Kabir, who wrote ‘I eat with truth, I sleep with truth, I sit with truth, I stand with truth.’ Various disparate states of human action are depicted, in a realm of imagined endeavours that questions the nature or truth of our human condition. There is interplay among anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms, a fluid exchange between the human and animal, suggesting a primal and intrinsic instinct. A winged beast with human features presides over the entrance; creatures including bees, dolphins and spiders accompany this, a primordial symbolism implied through these delicately formed animals and insects.
Museum Tent (2013) contains a series of emblematic self-portraits outlined by ornate rococo frames. Each image escapes the frame, interrupting the illusory nature of these otherwise formal portraits; the artist’s arms drape a tiger skin over the edge; a fishing rod protrudes outwards, dangling a fish limply into the turquoise abyss of the tent’s surround. Clemente playfully explores personal identity and a subversion of convention. Amid a patterned grisaille of animal, botanical and numerical woodcut-block prints, the exterior of the tent features paintings of the facades of well-known museums, floating within ochre and umber ovals, depriving them of their geographical context.
Taking Refuge (2013), presents a darker interior space, where a multitude of blue and grey painted Buddhas line the walls. Varying in scale, they appear to meld into one another as heads disappear into torsos, creating new forms that bloom out of a mass of conjoined bodies. The heads of animals such as cats and mice are depicted upon these Buddhas, raising questions about cycles of life and death, demise and return. The exterior of the tent combines a colourful fragmented applique with lines of gold embroidery, within which the Vajrayana vow of ‘taking refuge’ is printed in expansive blocks of text.
Tents demonstrates a unique staging of Clemente’s fragmented notion of the self, in striking visual form. The artist works with an eclectic visual language that unites Western tropes with his deep interest in Eastern spiritual, mystical and historical traditions. Taking influence from Italian frescoes and the philosophies of the Renaissance, the artist blends a broad Indo-European vision that once existed in antiquity with contemporary settings and themes – and in doing so, presents us with their inevitable disjunctions.
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Notes to Editors:
Francesco Clemente (b.1952) is an artist from the Neo-Expressionist movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, with an oeuvre spanning over four decades. He studied architecture at the University of Rome, and began to exhibit his drawings, photographs and conceptual works in Europe throughout the 1970s, many of which reflected his interest in the contemplative traditions of India, where he lived in Varanasi for several years.
In 1981, Clemente moved to New York with his wife, Alba, and their four children. He collaborated with close friends, most notably the poets Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley. Reacting against a wave of anti-painting sentiment among critical circles, Clemente initiated a series of collaborative paintings with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. His works were featured in shows at numerous international venues including the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1983); the Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1984); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1985); the Art Institute of Chicago (1987); and the Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1988).
Through the 1990s, surveys of his works were exhibited by the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1990); the Royal Academy of Arts, London (1990); the Pompidou Centre, Paris (1994); and the Sezon Museum, Tokyo (1994). In 1999–2000, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Guggenheim Bilbao organised a major retrospective of Clemente’s work. More recently, his works were exhibited by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2004); The Rose Art Museum, Massachusetts (2004); Museo Maxxi, Rome (2006); Museo MADRE, Naples (2009); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2011) and Uffizi Gallery, Florence (2011). Clemente is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Blain|Southern is a contemporary art gallery established in September 2010, representing some of the world’s leading contemporary artists. Originally located at 21 Dering Street, London, the gallery moved to 4 Hanover Square, London, in October 2012. Blain|Southern also has a Berlin gallery, and a sister gallery in New York, Blain|Di Donna.