Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai presents Michaël Borremans' "The Promise"

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Prada Rong Zhai, Shanghai presents Michaël Borremans' "The Promise"
MichaŽl Borremans, Five Cones, 2020. Oil on wood panel, 8 1/4 x 11 1/2 inches / 21 x 29.3 cm © MichaŽl Borremans, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner. Photo Peter Cox.

SHANGHAI.- Prada presents “The Promise”, an exhibition dedicated to MichaŽl Borremans, with the support of Fondazione Prada. On view from 22 March to 14 May 2024 at Prada Rong Zhai, a 1918 historic residence in Shanghai restored by Prada and reopened in October 2017, the exhibition is Borremans’ first solo presentation in Mainland China.

One of the most renowned painters of his generation, MichaŽl Borremans (Belgium, 1963) depicts the human condition by creating an ambiguous tension between his refined language and the portrayed subjects. In his paintings, human figures and everyday objects are isolated in their own world, immersed in an absurd, uncanny, or dreamlike atmosphere. Subtle or direct allusions to current socio-political events or art history are palpable in his work, yet, as art historian and curator Jeffrey Grove has written, “Borremans deftly elicits these historical analogues without slipping into homage or imitation, instead infusing his painting with a critical contemporary consciousness.” A permanent feeling of tension and anxiety pervades his works, and often, a sense of impending horror lurks beneath the apparent familiarity and intimacy of the portrayed scenes.

While Borremans sometimes uses found images as inspiration for his paintings he more frequently photographs his planned compositions, setting up the models, props, and background, controlling the lighting and the entire composition. Despite their photographic origin, his works depict an emotional and subjective reality evoking a space and time that is both ambiguous and indistinct. As the artist stated, “I’m always thinking of the psychological impact of an image that I’m creating when I’ll show it because you make a painting in the studio, but the act of painting is showing it – I’m aware, or I’m thinking about, the effect on a possible viewer. It’ll be different for everyone, but I want to decide on the direction it has.”

Over the past two decades, the Belgian artist has also explored the medium of film. Borremans’ short films create a contrast between an everyday reality and a dark, parallel dimension. His drawings and paintings are the formal basis of these works, which look like staged or performative moments in the form of tableaux vivants. Through the camera’s slow movement, Borremans either observes the rituals of human alienation or creates intense moments of suspension, triggering the viewer’s attention to a specific detail of a face, a body, or clothing. His short films “derive more than sculpture than from painting”, as stated by the artist. “Of course, the subject is sometimes analogous to paintings, but it is just an urge to see how sculpture could look if it wasn’t static; if it could move somehow, even if it doesn’t really move. If you film something that is standing still, there is still an aspect of movement to it.”

The Prada Rong Zhai venue offers an architectural and decorative dialog between Chinese and Western traditions. Its domestic-like and historical spaces enhances the sense of anachronism conveyed by Borremans’ art. The exhibition allows visitors to move freely around the different rooms and experience the multiple connections between history and contemporaneity in his works as well as a confrontation with the unique context of the early twentieth-century villa.

“The Promise” features twenty-three paintings by Borremans and one of his films showcased on the two main floors of the building. At the entrance hall, the public will encounter a comfortable and intimate space with customized furnishings introducing Borremans’ aesthetics. Moving to the first floor, visitors will confront his artistic practice through a selection of paintings representing strangely threatening objects, such as Mask (2008), Missile (2017), Alien (2018), and Coloured Cones (2019). A short film, The Storm (2006), is also on view. It is a powerful visual narration of gestures and signs starring three motionless men, where the only changing element is the light and its angle. The exhibition continues at the second level, including works that depict anonymous characters in an ambiguous and psychologically charged atmosphere such as A2 (2004), The Bodies (1) (2005), The Rug (2006), Still (2008), The Purse (2020), and The Racer (2022).

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