Puff Puff goodbye
Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam, NL, 9 March – 10 October 2021
Hermitage, Amsterdam, NL, 0 – 0 2019
Press Release: Helen Verhoeven is the winner of the eighth edition of the ABN AMRO Art Award, an incentive award for talent in the Netherlands. Trained as a painter, Verhoeven also works with materials such as ceramics, stained glass and textiles.
In her varied body of work, she links repressed emotions and current social dilemmas with classic historical and art-historical iconography. This is why her work initially comes across as being reassuringly recognizable -- until underlying layers with very different messages emerge. The characters in her scenes can, for instance, be perpetrators and victims at the same time; violence and intimacy can be extensions of each other. In Verhoeven's work a confusing or even unpleasant side to things is never far away.
With her installation Schamerkat, Verhoeven responds to the exhibition De schatkamer! (Treasury!), which includes top works of art from the collections of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In those collections the emphasis lies with beauty and creativity, worldwide and throughout the centuries. This inspired Verhoeven to create her own very diverse 'micro' collection. But with her play on words in Schamerkat, she also evokes other associations: it brings to mind the words schaamte (shame) and schemer (twilight), the darker side of existence.
As such she alludes to the other side of collecting: decadence and greed. But also to the other sides of universal themes expressed in her work, such as power, womanhood, birth and relationships. In these she continually hovers between gravity and absurdity. Characteristic of Verhoeven is the way in which she links biblical and mythological scenes to current issues and to her personal feelings and associations. The Greek god of fertility Priapos, who weighs his penis, for Verhoeven becomes a metaphor for the balance of power in relationships. An ancient statue of Heracles gave rise to a painting of savages dousing a fire by urinating on it. And confusing emotions with regard to artificial insemination led to a surrealistic stop-motion film of a woman vomiting sausages. In Schamerkat Verhoeven refuses to be limited by time and space. The works make up a Gesamtkunstwerk that invites us to look, be amazed, associate and make connections.
Art Basel, CH, 0 – 0 2018
Stigter van Doesburg
June 14 – 17, 2018
Messeplatz 10, 4005 Basel
Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, NL, 0 – 0 2018
Press Release: In a two-year collaboration with the Bonnefantenmuseum, Helen Verhoeven has explored the classical and religious themes of mediaeval art. Verhoeven selected nine exceptionally dynamic and theatrical works from the museum’s collection of old masters.
In large paintings, she reinterprets subjects like the Fall of man, the life of Jesus, biblical adultery, mythological rapes, unwanted pregnancies and wild brothels. Oh God approaches the drama of the old masters from a secular and contemporary perspective, and alienates the viewer from the original images. The large surfaces of the canvases show us tragic human behaviour: good deeds alongside cheating and malice, sadness, loss and humiliation. Power and helplessness stand side by side. It is as though Verhoeven has transformed the violence of our present society into the transhistorical lexicon of Christianity, in order to visualise a world that is totally incomprehensible, yet recognisable nonetheless.
Libby Libby Libby
Galerie Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam, NL, 0 – 0 2016
Press Release: In her new work, Verhoeven focuses her attention on the young and beautiful Libby; a local café employee (and artist) around whom Verhoeven’s entire Berlin neighborhood seems to orbit. Through a series of paintings of the model, Verhoeven explores the artist-muse relationship.
On the one hand, she attempts to capture this charismatic young woman as she appears to be; on the other hand she uses her as an actor, a stand-in for the artist herself, or as a purely formal element of a composition. In each painting Libby -or her image- plays a distinctive role amidst different impossible assemblages. The paintings are crowded and employ a still life logic that is echoed in the accompanying ceramic sculptures.
In the process of developing the work, Verhoeven allowed for drastic transformations of her subject so that paint and composition could dictate the figure’s purpose. Thus Libby morphs into different personas: strange and familiar, present and absent, within and without reach. Sometimes direct, sometimes evasive. It is her, then not her. Though Verhoeven’s Libbys are visually rather cacophonous, her subject is distinctly quiet. Amidst a chaos, she sits in silence. The space around her is animated by the convergence of pictorial planes and overcrowding.
Like the pluralist persona of her subject, Verhoeven too reveals contradictory tendencies within the work: her brushwork can be crude, then careful, sometimes careless and blasé, then seemingly urgent and unapologetic. The drawing can be simultaneous clumsy and deliberate. There is a sense of conflict in the presence of both tenderness and aggression and while the placement of banal still life objects and semi-sexual references to the nude genre seem playful, the paintings are nonetheless serious and oddly severe. It is perhaps due to the cruel coexistence of the beautiful and terrible that is the current backdrop of our lives. Painting flowers and ladies while pregnant in a beautiful Berlin studio while nations collapsed, heads rolled, and Trump was elected president seemed incongruous to say the least. Verhoeven’s Libbys consequently embody both darkness and hope. As a coping mechanism perhaps, she has placed whimsical ceramic sculptures on mosaic-covered pedestals amongst her paintings so a more lighthearted and absurdist approach to the problem can also be considered.
Apophänie, Peggy Franck & Helen Verhoeven
Nederlansche Bank, Amsterdam, NL, 1 January – 2 February 2015
Press Release (excerpt): Recent work by Peggy Franck and Helen Verhoeven is brought together in this new exhibition 'Apophänie' at De Nederlandsche Bank. Franck and Verhoeven started their ongoing dialogue when they met at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam in 2005. Despite their diverging visual languages, both artists share a deep interest in the nature of composition and the intuitive logic behind their creative process.
Galerie Parisa Kind, Frankfurt, DE, 0 – 0 2013
Press Release: The paintings in „The Waiting“ series, diverge from Verhoevens large scale paintings of crowds that she had been focusing on in recent years.
The subjects in these new paintings return to a quieter and singular, interior space. Removed from the complexities of crowd dynamics, these solitary figures ask a reading of an inward realm.
Helen Verhoeven's paintings acknowledge a familiar set-up of young girls in early 20th century figurative art - for instance, the women who are trapped and covered by Klimt’s patterns, or the young girls of Balthus' paintings, confined to an interior space of strange domestic sexual exploitation. Distilled and reduced to rudimentary pictorial elements, the oil on canvas paintings frame their subjects within a traditional portrait-style format. Figures are in front of shallow backdrops, tapestries, and the bare minimum of domestic attributes. The girls themselves, are composed of disjointed parts, much like Hans Bellmer's dolls and are interwoven with the patterns of their surroundings. Propped up like vacant disengaged paper-dolls, that are present to role-play the many archetypes of Woman.
These female figures, caught within the precarious transitional stages between adolescence and sexuality, shift into a different form of interpretation: They are women, facing their audience from what seems like an impenetrable distance; inert, as though stuck within a perpetual endgame of waiting. The figures sense of sexuality seems very contemporary, straddling both the extremely postured and being naively innocent. The formal elements of Verhoeven's paintings ask us to consider the other elements of the work: the paint handling, the color palette, the interior details of the constructed environment, and finally, the opaque facial expression. The figures, isolated and unblinking, personify estrangement, alienation and indifference, while the paintings themselves remain seductive and warm.
Galerie Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam, NL, 0 – 0 2013
Press Release: Revisiting the cultural icon of the mother figure likely invites discouragement. To contribute innovative ‘discourse’ to an archetype so primal, so universal, so theologically and art historically exhausted, is a precarious business.
The role of and means to motherhood has obviously changed in a post/part feminist world, but much of the language used to address her continues to lean towards the cliché: she is the source of all life, the nurturer, the oedipal lover, the overbearing controller, a monster. First familiar, then foreign; present, then absent; irreplaceable, omnipotent, carnivorous, beautiful, etc.
Compared with the consistent Christian renditions of Madonna and Child, film has introduced a much broader range of mother figures to our visual lexicon. Take Rosemary’s Baby (paranoid?), The Shining (frail), Psycho (controlling), Woman under the influence (hysterical), Jules and Jim (negligent), the Piano Teacher (all around abusive), or the many ‘mothers’ of 8 ½’s bathing scene (the good mother).
In 20th century painting, Mother has been addressed less frequently. She was quite prominently showcased as the ‘New Woman’ in early Soviet art and promoted as the ‘Kinder-Kirche-Küche’ woman in Nazi Germany, but generally present as whore rather than mother in most of German Expressionism. Then there are the obsessively depicted women by De Kooning, where Mother is monster, and Balthus’s female authorities, where mother/teacher is titillatingly perverse. Picasso’s weeping women are ‘suffering machines,’ while Freud’s expectant mothers are deeply—physically—human.
But all in all, motherhood has not been a popular subject. And within the canon of dead painters, I can think of only a few female artists whose mother figures I recall: Mary Cassatt, credited with the tiresome romanticized mother; Käthe Kollwitz, with her steadfast, stoic and protective mothers; Alice Neel, with her tender albeit somewhat awkward mothers; and Frida Kahlo’s heartbreaking self portraits as mother of the stillborn.
Given the rather striking poverty of painterly contributions on this topic in 20th century art, it seems there is room for new pictorial representation. The Mother paintings present fragmented women composed of many parts, much like the collaborative exquisite corpse drawings made by the surrealists. They are both best and worst case scenarios of the roles of mother and child: motherless child, childless mother, perfect union, total estrangement. Bound together by the patterns of the tapestries that surround them, and pressed up against the backdrop of shallow domestic spaces, they are merged and intertwined within three traditional female modalities: the paintings collapse the theme of ‘mother and child’ with the genre of domestic painting and the traditionally female occupation of weaving, craft, and tapestry. All this, in the hope that through visualization –free of neutralized and nullified feminist rhetoric– more nuanced and unexpected renditions of the mother figure may emerge.
SCHUNCK, Heerlen, NL, 0 – 0 2012
February 4 – April 29
Glaspaleis, Bongerd 18
6411 JM Heerlen, The Netherlands
+31 45 577 22 00
The Thingly Character
Galerie Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam, NL, 0 – 0 2010
Press Release: In her monumental, epic series of paintings Verhoeven seems to explore the collective memory of ceremonial group meetings, within which a landscape of nightmares and ghostly apparitions is hidden.
'The Thingly Character’ expresses a burlesque, ‘Weimar-like’ world in which social values are abandoned and the realm of taboo is explored. Verhoeven is able to show suppressed emotions and tensions, which the group tries to camouflage. She pulls the cloth at unexpected moments to share a collective feeling of desperation; depicting scenes in which themes like power and powerlessness, guilt and innocence, submission, and dominance play a decisive role. In the psychologically charged world of Verhoeven, wealth and decadence meet a repressed desolation, dismantling any fixed notions of social stability.
Verhoeven deliberately chooses to incorporate art historical quotes referring to Hieronymus Bosch, Goya and De Chirico, among others. In addition, she appropriates material from family archives, newspapers, paparazzi pictures, and film, creating a complex series of paintings in which different times, visual languages, and psychological states collide.
Even Verhoeven's style of painting contributes to the feeling of discomfort that is evoked within her works. Her coarse naïve-like brush stroke seems to suggest that social behavior can be traced back to primitive, individual motives. For the first time, Verhoeven uses a palette consisting of black, white and gray hues. Stripped from its veneer, these colorless compositions seem to underscore the melancholic, to distill, to mute, and to create a certain distance from the viewer. Verhoeven's epic black and white scenes are reminiscent of the silent films of the '20s, but also of the grisaille underpainting of the old masters.
Mesler and Hug, Los Angeles, US, 0 – 0 2008
Press Release: Mesler&Hug is pleased to present Helen Verhoeven: Events One and Two, simultaneously exhibiting at Wallspace Gallery in New York (Event One) and Mesler&Hug (Event Two). The subject of Verhoeven’s new body of work surrounds the notion of the event.
The centerpiece painting, which is four meters long, commands the focus of the audience and depicts the main scene. Using a myriad of styles (painterly, flat, classical, unnatural perspectives) various activities at a party are portrayed. The surrounding paintings in both exhibitions are close ups of elements taken from the main painting entitled Event One and Event Two. The small paintings crop individual interactions between the characters and focus on the details to create a new mood, different from that of the main painting.
Conceptually, both exhibitions explore the typical characteristics of an “event.” By combining different styles, and magnifying pieces of the painting, the small paintings become individual while being part of a larger event. These cropped snapshots are of portraits, still lives and different compositions from the main painting. They are the party within the party that is familiar to the audience. Verhoeven’s dark palette and relatively monochromatic red and purple hues create a quiet mood of a place where people engage physically, but are detached completely. The separation of paintings further emphasizes the idea of isolation. While being somber, there are moments of humor: the classical paintings within paintings, the play on traditional style and the anachronism of a modern party trapped in an aged interior.
Wallspace, New York, US, 0 – 0 2008
Press Release: Wallspace is pleased to present Events One and Two, an exhibition of new paintings by Helen Verhoeven. A concurrent exhibition of new work will be on view at Mesler & Hug in Los Angeles from October 18 – November 15, 2008.
A catalogue will accompany the exhibitions. This will be Verhoeven’s third solo show at Wallspace.
Events One and Two centers on a single 14-foot panoramic interior that draws from history painting and state portraiture, though, Verhoeven admits, “my work is a gross distortion of these genres.”
The rest of the exhibition builds out from this painting with a series of corresponding works that are details of the larger, made through shifting compositions, omitting or enhancing information, and by making minute alterations or distortions from one painting to the next. The project plays with languages of painting and image-making: it references Art History’s canonized (“bravado”) painters by implementing a wide range of rendering styles and borrowing, on occasion, from their cast of characters.
The Beautiful Many
Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam, NL, 0 – 0 2007
Jan 20 – Feb 24
1016 LJ Amsterdam