Combing aspects of mythology and Christianity, particularly as they pertain to the traditions of sculpture from the time of classicism, travelling through the Renaissance, Baroque and Surreal periods of western art, Berlinde de Bruyckere’s astonishing contemporary works reignite our engagement with the compelling viscerally of the figurative aesthetic.
After the cleansing and minimal processes of modernism, de Bruyckere’s works, with their true to life casting of legs, arms, torsos, often combined with materials such as blankets, horse hide, hair - and entombed in the strange mummifications of pigmented wax - deliver an unexpected contemplation of corporeality.
Because of their close attention to realism and their dalliance with the abject, De Bruyckere’s figures often elicit a shocked response from viewers. But proximity and time spent with her works becalm these feelings of surprise and apprehension as attitudes of tenderness and ministration overcome fear of the peculiar and grotesque.
De Bruyckere’s figure of ‘Marsysas’, the satyr, who in one version of Ovid’s telling, angered the Greek God Apollo by challenging him to a context of music, and then was subsequently flayed as a punishment, is a lamentable character in her output. In another, less popular account in mythology, Marsyas was thought to be a wise and philosophical character, one who challenged the envious God, Apollo, with his musical playing abilities and exposed Apollo’s trickery by which he succeeded in defeating the more talented Marsayas. For this reason the character of Marsayas has been a popular figure to represent the struggling, misunderstood artist.
De Bruyckere’s figure of Marsayas is reminiscent of the Greek Phamakon – a person sent away from the village to symbolically purge it of sin, disease, disaster and to appease the Gods. Derrida has likened the Phamokon to a figure who represents an ambivalence, a neither nor but an absent presence who symbolises man’s own dichotomies of being. De Bruyckere indicates this by using the animal skin which turns the inside out.
De Bruyckere makes her Marsyas a sympathetic character for whom she provides covering to protect him from his own degradation. Her Marsayas cowers and is haunted by the unjust and cruel punishment, but it also is a character set to roam as a pitiable figure of caution against pride.
This work was made and acquired in the year of the 2020 COVID 19 pandemic and seems particularly relevant to our situation which daily encounters the abjectness of disease while it seeks the humanity and kindness of strangers and community.
Juliana Engberg, 2020
- Arcangelo I
- Production date
- wax, animal hair, wood, iron, concrete, epoxy
- 1960 x 610 x 550 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased with assistance from the M A Serra Trust and International Ambassadors, 2021
- Accession no
- Copying restrictions apply
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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