All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.Oscar Wilde
On 2nd March 2023, Luxembourg + Co., London will open an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Balthus (1908-2001) – the first display dedicated to the artist in the UK for over 55 years since his retrospective exhibition at the Tate Galleries in 1968.
Balthasar Klossowski, better known as Balthus, is an exceptional figure in the history of modern art, one who poses a challenge to stylistic classification as well as social norms of pictorial representation. His unsettling depictions of models and still-life in domestic and rural contexts earned him both fame and notoriety over the last century, with major, yet controversial, displays in several of the world’s most prominent museums and galleries – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2017, and the Beyeler Foundation, Basel, 2019.
Presenting new critical perspectives on the Balthus’ legacy, the exhibition Under the Surface at Luxembourg + Co. focuses on the artist’s fascination with ‘staging’ as a concept and a pictorial methodology that underlines his creative approach but also reveals tacit complexities in his personal as well as artistic vision. Balthus exercised meticulous control over the form and placement of models, their bodily gestures, as well as the domestic or rural settings in which they reside, hereby creating, at least in appearance, dream-like scenarios, absent of time and emotional expression. Yet the restrain in Balthus’ paintings often implies suggestive, and at times even violent relationships within elements or figures in the picture, as well as their relation to viewers or the artist himself.
In an attempt to address these links between Balthus’ stylistic achievements and the controversial politics implied by his art, following the opening of the exhibition the gallery will inaugurate a response by contemporary artist and Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price, including a body of photographic and written work. Price’s intervention (to open on the 31st March) documents a group of ancient Roman sculptures, known as The Niobids, depicting the myth of Niobe’s twelve children who were slaughtered by Apollo and Arthemis in light of their mother’s vanity. Balthus commissioned the sculptures to be reproduced as copies during his tenure as the Director of the French Academy in Rome during at the famous Villa Medici in 1973 and arranged them in a manner resembling one of his own group compositions. As Price’s work reveals – and despite Balthus’ insistence that the sculptures were historically placed in the villa’s garden in the 16th century – no evidence exists to confirm their placement on the site. Balthus’ arrangement of The Niobids is, in that respect, evidence of his tendency to stage reality as fiction in accordance with his particular aesthetic vision; something he pursued in his painterly work as much as in his personal life.
BALTHUS, Under the Surface, Art Opening: 2nd March 2023, Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 4th June 2023, Luxembourg + Co., London With a response by Elizabeth Price (to open on the 31st March)