Austria-born, Berlin-based painter Robert Muntean says he’s inspired by Richard Gerstl, and there’s definitely something of the Secession-era artist’s taste for the obliterative in his new paintings, which often depicts figures only in outline, slashed by colours, large stretches of canvas left raw. They’re on show at Rosenfeld Porcini in Fitzrovia at the moment.
I’m thinking of Gerstl’s portrait of the family of Arnold Schoenberg, painted while having an affair with the mother of the house, just before discovery, and the painter’s descent into madness and suicide. This carefully posed bourgeois scene is overlaid by crazed slashes of yellows and greens. But Muntean’s paintings, while sharing some compositional and colour similarities, come from a more benign place: magazine photos of late 80s/early 90s rock bands like Jesus & Mary Chain and Sonic Youth.
I loved the decision to show the original photos, torn from the pages - faded and a bit yellowed, maybe processed with a few stray paint strokes around - next to the much larger paintings they inspired. It comes across as a respectful fan’s tribute, complicit with the musicians, supporting and (literally) magnifying them.
Then again, there’s the figure of poor Gerstl hovering in the background, the kinetic speed of the brushstrokes, the contrast between the harmony of the human figures with the discord of their sometimes colourful, sometimes raw surroundings. Maybe it’s meant to chime, slightly off the beat, with the dischord and raw sounds of the rock bands Muntean loves. But I think, just like honey, and a fan’s tribute, it’s very sweet above all.
(Sidebar: I was hoping from the show’s title that Robyn would show up, and the only 80s music reference I get from outline figures shaded with colour is A-Ha’s iconic Take on Me video, and have never heard a Sonic Youth song the whole way through, so I definitely am not Muntean’s ideal audience. Still loved it though.)
What is up with PACE’s run of inscrutable shows? We had boring modernist weaving last year, and now there’s a show of AbEx also-ran Richard Pousette-Dart. Such minimal variations of theme for a show spanning 50 years, too!
Also firmly up there in the bat squeak highbrow is Forms of Address, a group show at Laure Genillard featuring a fun couple of works from Yung-Ling Chen, a new name for me: an egg yolk balanced on a monocle, and another work involving spinach leaves.
Robert Muntean: Just Like Honey is at Rosenfeld Porcini (London). 14 December 2018 – 9 Feb 2019