Exhibition

Hugo Wilson. Thierleben

29 Apr 2017 – 10 Jun 2017

Galerie Judin

Berlin
Berlin, Germany

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With his first exhi­bi­tion at Galerie Judin, Hugo Wil­son explores this phe­nomenon, known as anthro­pomorphism. In the spirit of Alfred Brehm, the paint­ings, all cre­ated last year, explore ani­mal group­ings as a reflec­tion of human soci­ety.

About

More than 150 years ago, the Ger­man zool­o­gist Alfred Brehm cast a new light on the ani­mal kingdom with his sev­eral-vol­ume work Thierleben. His work was compelling not only due to his new find­ings about global fauna, but also as a result of its poetic qual­ity of the descrip­tions. Trans­lated into many lan­guages, Brehms Thierleben reached an enor­mous interna­tional audi­ence, and espe­cially in Ger­many could be found in virtu­ally every mid­dle class home. The book thus shaped our view of ani­mal wildlife over gen­er­a­tions. But despite his groundbreaking obser­va­tions, Brehm also narrowed our per­spec­tive by imput­ing human motives to ani­mals and their inter­ac­tions: indeed, this is precisely what con­tributed to the book’s enor­mous success. And despite ever-increas­ing sci­entific find­ings our desire to project human char­ac­ter­is­tics and social struc­tures onto ani­mal behav­ior has con­tin­ued and intensi­fied to this day. Just think of kung-fu-fight­ing panda bears and all the other talking ani­mals in com­puter-ani­mated films—not to men­tion vir­ile cat videos on YouTube!

With his first exhi­bi­tion at Galerie Judin, Hugo Wil­son (b. 1982) explores this phe­nomenon, known as anthro­pomorphism. In the spirit of Alfred Brehm, the paint­ings, all cre­ated last year, explore ani­mal group­ings as a reflec­tion of human soci­ety. But Wil­son’s paint­ings do not depict peaceful coexis­tence, but peck­ing orders and food chains. These are complex visual arrange­ments that the artist ini­tially devel­ops as dig­ital collages and then exe­cutes in Old Mas­ter style onto woo­den pan­els. Not only Wil­son’s technique, but also some motivic ele­ments can be traced back to Euro­pean art history. Von Max Out for exam­ple, a spectac­u­lar clus­ter of Sim­ian species, alludes to the Ger­man painter Gabriel von Max, who cre­ated numer­ous por­traits of mon­keys as an artis­tic exe­cu­tion of Charles Darwin’s the­o­ries of evo­lu­tion. But not all of Wil­son’s ref­er­ences are so evi­dent. The background of Unti­tled (Octo­pus), hides an incon­spic­u­ous art histor­ical quote: the group of fig­ures from Peter Paul Rubens’ The Rape of the Daugh­ters of Leucip­pus can be made out as an amorphous formal ele­ment. Wil­son’s motifs not only play with col­lec­tive visual mem­ory and recog­ni­tion (actual or sup­posed), but also with the truth con­tent of today’s visual events. The paint­ing I Get It is based on a photo­graph that shows a weasel clasp­ing onto a woodpecker in full flight. It became an inter­net phe­nomenon, and the cause for heated debates on real and false images in the dig­ital age.

In light of his man­i­fold con­cern with art history, it comes as no surprise that Wil­son’s first Berlin exhi­bi­tion was ignited by the encounter with a group of water­colours from the gallery’s hold­ings of works by Charles-Frédéric Soehnée (1789—1878), who cre­ated an astound­ing uni­verse of anthro­pomorphic ani­mals and mon­sters that pre­dated the Fantasy genre by more than a century. Wil­son ulti­mately chose Soehnée as an artis­tic partner in conver­sa­tion for both the exhi­bi­tion and the cat­a­logue.

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Hugo Wilson

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