For Stage Disasters, her fourth show with the gallery and her first in New York since 2008, Helen Verhoeven exhibits five new paintings dealing with estrangement, sex, farce and role-play.
By combining traditional modes of genre painting - specifically that of the landscape, the nude and the group portrait - Verhoeven makes artificial, theatrical renditions of fictional, liminal moments that specifically address the roles of women. Characters from different time periods converge, but most seem oblivious to each other’s presence. They are fragmented and layered, trapped between audience and backdrop. The figures could be descendants of De Kooning’s women or Balthus’ girls; of old Spanish Royalty if they’d copulated with doyennes of reality television. They pose in make-believe congregations along lakes and rivers, stand before backdrops of beachfront postcards or a ravaged Dali-esque desert landscape. As in the dream-like situations of surrealist film, a strangeness floats amidst these eventless Mise-en-scènes.
The exhibition’s title refers to the loss of decorum that we, as spectators, unabashedly revel in: moments when performers take missteps, become belligerent or inappropriate. In these moments of misbehavior, when we’re witness to someone’s public demise, the spectacle mirrors our own worst-case scenarios. Rapt, we watch the unraveling. It is as if we enlist these characters to project our own demons onto, so that expelling them from the limelight serves as our own ritualized exorcism. For Verhoeven, painting can similarly be a kind of exorcism: articulating communal fantasies and anxieties to create a trans-historical portrait of the collective unconscious.
Dutch-born Helen Verhoeven lives in Berlin and New York. Her work was recently the subject of a mid-career survey at SCHUNCK* in Heerlen, The Netherlands; a catalogue, Helen Verhoeven: Part Pretty, was produced in conjunction with the exhibition and on the occasion of the Wolvecamp Prize, of which Verhoeven is the recipient. Recent and forthcoming exhibitions include Made in Germany Zwei at Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kestnergesellschaft and Kunstverein Hannover, Germany; What’s Up! Young Painting in The Netherlands, Dordrecht Museum, The Netherlands; Bellevue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Body Language, Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom.