Gallery Talks, Lectures and Events
Pharaoh in Canaan
New in the CollectionDecember 7, 2012-February 16, 2013
Location: Spertus Gallery
Artist: Rineke Dijkstra
Curator: Talia Amar
Media: Painting, drawing, video
In the central work exhibited in this space, Ruth Drawing Picasso, Tate Liverpool, UK, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra focuses her camera on a girl in school uniform seated on the floor and drawing in her notebook. We, the viewers, follow the pencil in her hand, hearing the scratching sound as it moves across the paper. From time to time she is distracted by goings-on around her – a hand reaching out for a pencil or a foot that fleetingly appears. We realize that young Ruth is copying an artwork while on a class visit to the museum. She looks at Picasso’s Weeping Woman, 1937, and we look at her. The masterwork and her sketch of it are hidden from view, so that we cannot tell how she has understood the painting. Separated from her natural context, fully caught up in her quasi-meditative endeavor, Ruth fills the screen. She is absorbed by what she is doing, and the camera is absorbed by her. More than it addresses painting and drawing, this video work addresses sight and the act of observation in its purest and most creative form, along with its “derivatives”: consciousness, knowledge, interpretation, the finding of meaning. When Ruth raises her eyes, her gaze meets more than the painting: it meets the eyes of the viewer observing her at work and it meets the artworks hanging on the opposite wall. All are somewhat enigmatic, elusive portraits involving transitional states and stages of development: from drawing to painting, from childhood to adulthood, from amorphous forms to sharp lines, from imagination to reality, and from vitality to illness and a sense of mortality. Opposite Ruth’s observation of Picasso’s Weeping Woman (which is based on his figure in Guernica of a mother holding her dead child), an earlier work by the artist is displayed: Two Nudes: Maternity, 1920. It offers an archetype of motherhood symbolizing life and fertility, whereas the figure of the Weeping Woman relates to a sorrowful Virgin Mary and the iconography of the Mater Dolorosa. Picasso’s move to Cubism and the deconstruction of the human form, found in full force in his Weeping Woman, is already hinted at in Two Nudes: Maternity. A large portrait of a thin, pale man hangs on the same wall, across from Ruth's naive and unselfconscious gaze that shifts from painting to notebook and back again. This man’s gaze is piercing and unwavering, dark staring eyes in a slightly indistinct face. On this wall, optimism and freshness slowly turn away and cede their place to melancholy, as in the somber work by Borremans. Faces are concealed, just as Ruth’s sketch and Picasso’s master painting remain beyond the camera’s reach – allusions, perhaps, to the blind spot inherent in any act of seeing.