In L’Art dans son époque. De Rubens à aujourd’hui, an exhibition of nine paintings and two sculptures by German-born Saint-Chrysostome-based artist Detlef Gotzens, traditional landscape, history painting, and portraiture are updated through a combination of tightly rendered figurative elements and looser abstraction. This “fusion” not only links Gotzens to the distant history of European art (Rubens), but also connects his practice to the more recent past, specifically to the work of contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter who has also combined representationalism with abstraction.
There are several works worth reflecting upon in this show. The most recent pieces are two painting/sculpture hybrids. Brain Shard (2022) is a bubblegum-coloured sculpture of a human brain with an engraved shard of stained glass embedded in it, like the broken screen of a tablet, perhaps symbolizing the way technology has inserted itself into our consciousness.
The showstopper in this exhibition is Gotzens’ Massacre of the Innocents (2017), a response to a painting of the same name by Flemish Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens (c 1610), a reproduction of which is helpfully included in the exhibition. The title comes from the Gospel of Matthew, but certainly in the Gotzens work – and possibly in that of Rubens – the title refers more broadly to all victims of violence and war.
Compared to the soft, fleshy Rubens, Gotzens’ version is a harder-edged, harsher, and more fragmented image, fitting for the age of instant access and short attention spans suggested by the seated collaged figure holding a remote control, ready to switch away from the world’s horrors. Gotzens also seems to be showing us the massacre of childhood innocence as the ruined lives of children feature prominently – seen, for example, in the cigarette-smoking, cold-eyed child soldier on the bottom right of the canvas, whose gun is both weapon and toy simultaneously.
Gotzens appears to prefer working on a large scale. His palette is frequently vibrant with bold transitions between colours and light and dark. The brushwork in the abstract areas is vigorous, contrasting strongly with the subtle, more realistic parts of the paintings. The resulting works feel energetic and tense, almost forcibly unified, as if any slight shift in the arrangement of their elements might blow the artworks apart.
L’Art dans son époque, De Rubens à aujourd’hui, is on display at MUSO (21 Rue Dufferin, Valleyfield) until April 2.