A picture of a painting that was a picture: “Photorealism – 50 years of hyperrealistic painting” at Musée d’Ixelles (Brussels)
Why would you want to take a picture of a painting that is so perfect you’d swear it is a picture? Funny even, knowing that the painting tries to be the exact copy of a picture. So: a picture of a painting that was a picture. Seeing the cameras and smartphones made me smile, but it made me realize as well: it must be the reason why so many people were visiting Photorealism – 50 years of hyperrealistic painting (Musée d’Ixelles, Brussels, through September 25) on that hot Sunday afternoon. Those photorealism painters trigger the same sense of wonder as magicians do. How the hell do they pull it off?
The reason I wanted to see Photorealism was because I had just read an extraordinary portrait of the American painter Chuck Close in the NYT. An artist who hates being called a photorealist, but who is nevertheless regarded as one of the key figures of that movement, which took off at the end of the sixties. And of course, Photorealism comprises one of Close’s Self Portraits.
It actually is one of the odd ones out in the exhibition, as it doesn’t make you wonder: is this a painting or a picture? Being in black-and-white, and visibly made up of tiny little squares, it obviously isn’t a picture. So I strolled around, looking at all the other ones that do look like pictures, and at the people admiring them, visibly in awe of the craftmanship on display. Yes, you can’t help wondering how those artists do it. But at the same time you wonder why they would want to do it? Why spend hours making a painting that is so perfect that you almost can’t see the difference with a picture? Of a car tire? OK, some of them have something more going on. They make you smile, or by zooming in on, for instance, a car interior, they almost become abstract paintings.
Anyway. Photorealism comprises works of art by three generations of photorealist painters. It might not be Belgium’s best summer exhibition, but visiting it sure is a fun thing to do. And do take some extra time to go over to the lovely permanent collection in the other wing of the building. Even there you’ll find “photorealistic” paintings… From the 1600s.
Photorealism – 50 years of hyperrealistic painting, Musée d’Ixelles, through September 25, 2016. Info here.
“Americas Favourite” (Ralph Going, 1989; Collection of Susan P. and Louis K. Meisel, New York; courtesy Musée d’Ixelles)
“Car Reflections” (Richard Estes, 1969; private collection; courtesy Musée d’Ixelles)
“Confini Segreti” (Roberto Bernardi, 2013; courtesy of Bernarducci Melsel Gallery, New York & Musée d’Ixelles)