Rear View April 18 – June 3, 2023 LGDR 19 East 64th Street New York, New York 10065
Beginning April 18, 2023, LGDR will present Rear View, the inaugural exhibition of the gallery’s new flagship location at 19 East 64th Street in New York City. Spanning two floors of this landmark Beaux Arts-style townhouse, Rear View will present a transhistorical selection of approximately 40 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and photographs that explore representations of the human figure as seen from behind—an enduring, wide-ranging paradigm which has exerted potent influence on modern and contemporary artists. In addition to rare twentieth-century masterworks by Félix Vallotton, René Magritte, Francis Bacon, Domenico Gnoli, Egon Schiele, Paul Cadmus, Aristide Maillol,and others, Rear View will bring together seminal pieces by a diverse group of living artists spanning generations.
Rear Viewwill also debut a number of works commissioned expressly for the exhibition, encouraging fresh insights into the continued vitality of a centuries-old art historical tradition. Among artists creRear Viewating works for the exhibition are Seth Becker, Francesco Clemente, Diane Dal-Pra, Urs Fischer, Eric Fischl, Jenna Gribbon, and Danielle McKinney.
Long before the term Rückenfigur was popularized in the nineteenth century by Caspar David Friedrich, painters and sculptors, dating back to antiquity, deployed the human figure seen from behind as a conceptual and formal device.Rear View provides a lens onto this specific genre as it pertains to artists’ desires to capture a range of human states and emotions—contemplation, longing, voyeurism, refusal, fetishism, and defiance—while drawing our attention to the act of looking itself and to the viewer’s role in constructing meaning and identity.
Rear View will be open to the public at LGDR through June 3, 2023. In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery will publish a scholarly essay by Dieter Roelstraete, Curator at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago.
From the idealized male bodies celebrated in Hellenistic sculpture to the bathers glimpsed in snapshot-like paintings and drawings by Impressionists and early modernists, images of nude bodies portrayed from behind have been integral to the unfolding story of figuration in Western art. Visitors to Rear View will be greeted on East 64th Street with an opening statement on this estimable history; the gallery’s façade windows will contain a pair of new paintings made for the exhibition by Francesco Clemente, depicting one body from the front and another from behind.
Inside LGDR’s building, Fernando Botero’s 1989 painting The Bathroomfeatures a woman, at once monumental and delicate, gazing at herself in the mirror, wearing only heels and a headband. The figure’s unselfconscious posture suggests she is unaware of the artist, invested only in herself. By contrast, John Currin’s Nude in a Convex Mirror (2015) looks over her shoulder, presumably at the painter who is depicting the curves of her accentuated derrière—but also at the viewer observing the action.
The subject of Paul Cadmus’s circa1965 crayon drawing Standing Male Nude (NM 48) likewise peeks over his shoulder at the artist and the viewer, but with a loaded glance and a flirtatious pose—one foot ever so slightly lifted to reveal its sole—that encode a sexual charge of mutual male gazes into an otherwise classical image. Jared French and George Tooker—part of the homosocial circle of artists around Cadmus—are represented in the exhibition by emblematic, dreamlike paintings populated uniquely by idealized male figures. In these works, eroticism emerges not only from the frisson of nudity, but also from the narrative implications of intimacy between the depicted subject and the artist, and, ultimately, from the viewer’s eye meeting the sensuousness of the image.
In their foreclosure of a complete picture, turned figures such as Currin’s also signal fetishism, one of the themes explored inRear View. Numerous works in the exhibition illuminate the ways in which contemporary painting has absorbed the cinematic motif of the rear view, translating the camerawork of film noir and Hitchcockian thrillers like Rear Window (1954) into paint on canvas or rich black-and-white photographic images. Eric Fischl and Danielle McKinney, for example, draw upon our collective imagination in composing their deeply narrative scenes, often populated by mysterious figures shown from the back and seemingly unaware of being observed. By contrast, but with no less enigmatic intensity, Harry Callahan’s mid-century rear-view photographs of his beloved wife Eleanor testify to the impact of cinematic vision when personalized to a single, deceptively simple subject.
In this context, another highlight ofRear View is Domenico Gnoli’s sumptuous large-scale canvas Curly Red Hair (1969), which lingers over the texture of auburn curls cascading down a woman’s back. Tightly cropped to the subject at hand and denying identifying details of the figure, the painting reveals Gnoli’s seeming uninterest in the body except as a support for signifying ornament.
The fragmented, fetishized human body is a charged trope in art history, explored by figures such as esteemed feminist scholar Linda Nochlin in her text The Body in Pieces: The Fragment of Metaphor for Modernity (1994). Spurred by the violence and social upheaval of the French Revolution, Nochlin notes, artists began to systematically deploy radical spatial cropping, as well as to isolate specific body parts, in order to examine the conditions of modern urban life—alienation, desire, suffering, obsession, and experiences of ambiguous anonymity.
Nochlin’s observations find a contemporary echo in Issy Wood’s intimate canvas on view in the exhibition; Health and Hotness (2018) shows only the muscular back and bottom of a swimmer, framed by her purple bathing suit. Wood’s enigmatic image is also a meditation on the impact of compressed and split planes and shapes—a study of the body as an abstraction.
Political refusal and personal irreverence also figure into art-historical manifestations of the rear view. LGDR’s exhibition features six photographs from Anselm Kiefer’s polemical 1969 series Besetzungen (Occupations). In the series, the then-young artist photographed himself— often shown from behind, mimicking the heroic stance of Friedrich’s Rückenfigur—performing the Nazi salute in front of European monuments and natural sites. Of the series, which was as controversial when new as it is now, art historian Benjamin Buchloh observed “a real working through of German history. You have to inhabit it to overcome it.”
“String bottoms together in place of signatures for petition of peace.” This is how Yoko Ono described her infamous Film No. 4 (Bottoms) (1966–67)—an 80-minute montage of 365 human bottoms, featuring different genders, races, and body types. Marshaling her conceptual Fluxus rigor and sly humor into a powerful political protest against the Vietnam War, Ono’s provocative film retains its antiwar bite as well as its universalizing humanism today.
The compositional framework of the turned back is otherwise employed in Rear View to convey such experiences as shame, disobedience, and the existential contemplation of the sublime in nature by artists as diverse as Cecily Brown, Philip Pearlstein, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Giorgio de Chirico.
Full Frontal, a pendant presentation to Rear View exhibited on the gallery’s second floor, will explore the opposite art historical trope—frontal nudity. As the idiom of the title suggests, debates around moral propriety and censorship in art and popular culture often ascribe a confrontational value to front-facing nudes. While the naked body has always been present in visual culture, shifting social values have influenced representational approaches to the subject. Featured in Full Frontal are works by Miriam Cahn, Jenna Gribbon, and Barkley L. Hendricks, among others.
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