We’ll Keep On Dancing Till We Pay the Rent
Art, to me, has never felt like a description of reality. It is always about getting some internal understanding of reality out. —Glenn Brown
Wielding a broad knowledge of art history, literature, music, and popular culture, Brown creates images and forms in which divergent references collide and playfully coexist. By harnessing the lingering allure and historical resonance of old master drawings, he transforms their past imagery into something rich and strange. The new paintings on view in New York include double portraits, twisted figures, and a large-scale still life with ripened quinces. The artist’s exacting mark making, which produces intricate loops and swirls of paint that appear to glide and float across the canvases’ surfaces, infuses these works with an ethereal vitality.
After his last New York exhibition in 2014, Brown spent time concentrating exclusively on drawing, describing it as “the skeleton that holds the composition of any painting together.” In this exhibition, the technique becomes his starting point; each painting is based on an appropriated drawing. The work still hinges on art history and maintains his characteristic surrealist-symbolist look, but now Brown’s marks are bigger and bolder and his colors more fantastical, making every rendering intensely graphic and charged with accelerated motion.
In The Over-Soul (2022), Brown juxtaposes a female profile with the image of a male seated figure, garlanding the surreal result in curls of coral, sapphire, yellow, and purple. The inspiration for the face is Pompeo Batoni’s study La Religion (before 1757), while the figure is based on a drawing by Jan Willem Pieneman, and the palette derives from Maurice de Vlaminck’s Femme au chien (1906). The title of Im Gestein (2019–21)—in English, “in the rocks”—refers to a section of György Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, a musical composition forever linked to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001 (1968). Here Brown takes as his sources studies by Jan Willem Pieneman (1779–1853) and Jan Van Noordt (1623/4–after 1676). In We’ll Keep On Dancing Till We Pay the Rent (2022)—the title was imagined by Brown but recalls Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?—two faces conjoined by one ear are balanced precariously on a tiny neck, while a curious hand and pointing finger drift up from a smoky, barren, dreamlike background.
In addition to paintings and drawings, the exhibition also features two new sculptures, both of which recall the singular brushwork of Frank Auerbach and the monochromatic bronzes of Willem de Kooning. In Soused (2022)—the title means “drunk” or “soaked”—a slouched and dejected figure with no arms and one leg is propped up on a pedestal in an arrangement inspired by the elongated figures of Alina Szapocznikow (1926–1973) and Alberto Giacometti. In Hey Nonny Nonny/The Busker’s Empty Cap (2022), Brown revisits his earlier sculptures, such as Died in the Wool (2020), and paintings, such as Seventeen Seconds (2005), achieving the same peculiar complexity as that of his two-dimensional work and sharing its faintly sinister air, which he has described as “like having a thief in the room.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an interview between curator Massimiliano Gioni and the artist.
The inaugural exhibition at the newly opened Brown Collection in London—home to the artist’s art collection and three floors of exhibition space—reveals the breadth of Brown’s oeuvre in a selection of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures, ranging from early appropriations of Frank Auerbach and Jean-Honoré Fragonard to recent layered portraits after Renaissance old masters. During Frieze week, the Collection will be open from Tuesday, October 11, to Sunday, October 16, from 11am to 6pm.
Brown’s two-venue retrospective The Real Thing will be on view at the Sprengel Museum Hannover and the Landesmuseum Hannover in Germany from February 23 to June 24, 2023.