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The dark art of Jonas Burgert heads for Bologna

Over the 12 days of Christmas, Apollo contributors and guests select their highlights of 2017. View the series here.

6 January 2017

Born in 1969, Jonas Burgert is arguably the foremost German artist of his youthful generation – and certainly the most gripping figurative one. Burgert’s upcoming exhibition at MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (26 January–17 April) – promises the perfect opportunity to assess the artist’s career to date. Comprising approximately 40 works, the selection begins with the extraordinary drawing Graufeld/Grey field of 2003 and concludes with an equally monumental canvas that was in progress and well advanced when I visited the artist’s studio last December. (Full disclosure: I have written a concise essay for the catalogue, though it still, happily, leaves much more to be said about the work).

At face value, Burgert’s art looks to belong to a Nordic tradition stretching back to Bosch and Bruegel, not to mention more recent predecessors such as Beckmann. However, Burgert stresses that his paintings are not legible allegories, unlike those of his forebears. On the contrary, they explore the human condition from a post-modern standpoint. The more the figures and myriad other creatures and objects proliferate, the less they seem to cohere into legible narratives. Instead, the mood is capricious, introspective and carnivalesque – though dark as hell (notwithstanding Burgert’s colour-laden palette) and heavy with the weight of German history.

From a completely different perspective, although still in Italy, Giancarlo Vitali’s retrospective opening this June at the Palazzo Reale in Milan (through September; exact dates to be confirmed) and titled ‘Time Out’ – with three satellite shows at the House of Manzoni, The Museum of Natural History and the Pinacoteca del Castello – should be a visual and intellectual feast. A master of bravura expressionism with a nod towards Soutine, Vitali uses slashing impasto and vivid hues to get at the often wry and visceral crux of people and things. In short, these paintings are eye-openers.

David Anfam co-curated the blockbuster survey of Abstract Expressionism recently held at the Royal Academy in London.
Keep up with Apollo’s 12 Days selection of art highlights here.

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