Michaël Borremans (b. 1963)
signed twice, titled and dated 'Michaël M.C.G. Borremans Michaël M.C.G. Borremans -INTERFACE- 2008' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
16 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (41.9 x 36.1 cm.)
Painted in 2008.
Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
Acquired form the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Alexander Berggruen
Alexander Berggruen

Lot Essay

Michaël Borremans’ paintings are uncanny and mysterious in a way that makes them immediately compelling. Stylistically, they are reminiscent of an earlier era in the history of art, while thematically they have visual twists that make them feel distinctly contemporary. In Interface, a 2008 oil on canvas painting that expertly exemplifies this dichotomy, Borremans gives us a portrait of a young woman of an indistinct historical period in a realistic style with muted tones reminiscent of the palette of a Dutch still-life. He then adds a contemporary twist in the form of a frame that obscures her face. Within that frame there appears to be a sheet of glass with a series of shapes scattered across it. This glass intermediary between viewer and subject would be invisible were it not for the markings scattered across its surface. Further accentuating this intervention between subject and viewer is a bold, semi-translucent white brush stroke placed across her closed eyes, which could be part of the glass or exist as its own element. There is an uncanny mystery to this portrait, and it brings to mind questions of what might exist beyond the frame that would explain what we see, yet somehow there is also a serenity that allows us to appreciate the inventive aesthetic sensibilities for what they are.

In describing his work, Borremans has said that "at first you expect a narrative, because the figures are familiar. But then you see that some parts of the painting don’t match, or don’t make sense. The works don’t come to a conclusion in the way we expect them to. The images are unfinished: they remain open. That’s what makes them durable” (M. Borremans quoted in D. Coggins, “Michaël Borremans," Art in America, March 2009, p. 90). The woman in Interface is obscured and the significance of the frame and markings in front of her face are unknown, which is what makes this image feel so strong, intriguing and contemplative. This portrait does not have to make sense for it to be truly appreciated. It is a painting that shares the display of skill and aesthetic sensibilities of masters from another era—Manet, Goya, or Velasquez are all acknowledged influences—while bringing in an element of abstraction and current story-telling style that can be considered in context with the paintings of present-day contemporaries like Luc Tuymans or Gerhard Richter, or even the visual storytelling of a David Lynch film.

In Interface, what we see, ultimately, is a timeless meditation on notions of painting and representation, acknowledging past and present, and calling to mind questions about the need for truth in portraiture. In doing this, Borremans bestows an enigmatic essence upon his subject and the style in which she is presented, one that is open to any number of interpretations, all equally accurate and meaningful in that they represent whatever its viewers choose to make of it. At the same time, the painting is so carefully rendered, with expert brushstrokes and a delicate realism, that it could be at home as much in a contemporary context as a historical one.

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