Raoul De Keyser: Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.
What makes De Keyser's paintings so timely, so attractive to younger artists, may be their self-conscious vulnerability, their sense of unfoundedness and indifference to "the discourse," the talking points that can so easily distract from the deeper problem they merely point to: that everything about art, as Theodor Adorno once said, "has become problematic: its inner life, its relation to society, even its right to exist." Not that De Keyser looks to be agonizing about this, mind you--even that would be to give it a sort of false importance. But certain of De Keyser's works, where, as Adrian Searle puts it in his catalogue essay, "nothing seems to remain except residue," speak as poignantly to this condition as one could imagine, and all the more so as De Keyser does not make a method or a fetish of it. His response to the situation of painting eschews melodrama, opting (here Searle borrows from Susan Sontag's description of the Romanian aphorist E.M. Cioran) for "nuance, irony, and refinement." At the same time, there is very little sense of development in De Keyser's oeuvre; a painting from the late '70s can look very much like one made today. Yet he certainly does get better, in the sense that the more recent paintings are more clearly or intensely what the earlier ones already were--only now more nuanced, more ironic, more refined. And surprisingly, De Keyser's consistency coexists with an extreme liberty.
With De Keyser, painting becomes what it has hardly ever been--something like what Gilles Deleuze called a minor language, or in Manny Farber's more resonant phrase, a termite art. The paintings, generally of modest scale, don't look like they were made with top-of-the-line paints or with the most solid of stretchers; there's an iffiness about them that seems to go right down to their materials. There is often something a bit grimy or blanched about their color, as if they didn't want to be too noticeable. The paint handling can look almost slapdash, and where it becomes more vigorous, this can be read as betraying frustration rather than insouciant bravura. And yet that slapdash handling gradually begins to seem surpassingly sensitive--or is it? The grubby color, fresh and beautifully calibrated--but is it, really? The sense of doubt never quite goes away. These are paintings on the edge of emptiness, of awkwardness, of a sort of visual inaudibility, and even when you see them as beautiful--as I do--their beauty somehow incorporates rather than banishes those qualities and therefore always feels threatened from within.
"Raoul De Keyser" (curated by Hendrik Driessen, director, De Pont Foundation; Ulrich Loock, deputy director, Fundacao de Serralves; and Anthony Spira, curator, Whitechapel Art Gallery) travels to the Musee Departemental d'Art Contemporain de Rochechouart, June 5-Aug. 29; De Pont Foundation, Tilburg, Sept. 11-Jan. 9, 2005; Fundacao de Serralves, Porto, Jan. 2005-Apr. 2005; Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, May 2005-Aug. 2005.
Barry Schwabsky is a London-based critic.
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|Title Annotation:||retrospective of paintings from 1963 to the present|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2004|
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