The animated films with hypnotic soundtracks and installations of the Berlin-based Swedish artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg (both b. 1978) are shown in dialogue with selections from the late work of Willem de Kooning, a master of abstract expressionism and American postwar art.
Djurberg & Berg’s “dreadful” women, seductresses, demons, witches, and overweening mothers are reminiscent of de Kooning’s famous “Woman” cycle from the early 1950s. As in de Kooning, the artistic transformation and deformation of the body brings repressed psychological states to light—but the premises are very different. Djurberg employs disfigurement for a very deliberate reflection on stereotypical roles and power relations in a male-dominated world. Djurberg & Berg’s creative process, like de Kooning’s, is informed by intuition, by the immediate and physical engagement with the creative medium.
The show opens with works from the series of installations “A Thief Caught in the Act (Flock of Birds),” 2015. Various birds modeled by Djurberg are about to steal colorful pills. Spotlights picking them out at intervals suggest a police operation, making the beholder a witness to what would seem to be the enactment of a forbidden desire. On view in the first gallery are three more recent videos by Djurberg & Berg, including the animation “Worship” (2016), in which modeling-clay figures use various objects with sexual connotations—bananas, donuts, corncobs, sausages—to satisfy their urges. These objects also feature in the eleven-part wall installation of the same title.
The second part of the exhibition is dedicated to the dialogue with de Kooning’s art. It begins with a series of drawings created between the 1960s and the 1980s from the Frieder Burda Collection in which de Kooning reduces the bulky female figures of his famous “Woman” paintings to strikingly delicate gestural compositions. They are brought face to face with the meaty overweight characters of Djurberg & Berg’s animated film “Hungry Hungry Hippoes” (2007). On view in the second gallery together with earlier works by the duo, the film is another example of their deft use of claymation (a stop-motion technique in which figures made of a malleable material are continually altered to create the effect of motion). The films respond to two eminent works from the Frieder Burda Collection: de Kooning’s late painting “Untitled X” (1976) and his bronze sculpture “Large Torso” (1974), whose kinship with Djurberg’s protean figurines is evident. Both artists turn the inside out, revealing the dark underside of conscious life.