Tal R

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

A mint-green boy lingers on a river’s lip with a bottle of milk. A rose-pink woman bends double on a bench, her hanging legs the tail of a pilcrow. A shop-front is coloured with deep rubs of green, red, blue, its vaulting windows opening onto darkness. In white, its signage reads: LIBIDOS. Why does the boy need calcium? Why does the woman bow? Whose passions lurk in the shadows?

tal_r_upstairs_2005_pigment_and_rabbitglue_on_canvas_2_x_1.7_m._courtesy_galleri_bo_bjerggaard_photograp_anders_sune_berg

Tal R, Upstairs, 2005, pigment and rabbitglue on canvas, 2 x 1.7 m. Courtesy: Galleri Bo Bjerggaard; photograp: Anders Sune Berg

Tal R, Upstairs, 2005, pigment and rabbitglue on canvas, 2 x 1.7 m. Courtesy: Galleri Bo Bjerggaard; photograp: Anders Sune Berg

Tal R has previously termed such painted fragments kolbojnik, a Yiddish word for the garbage bins that collect waste food at kibbutzim, and they litter his vast retrospective at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, ‘Academy of Tal R’. Amongst the two-storey shelves of canvases that ring the first room, we peep a showering woman, a cubist staircase leading nowhere and a mess of furniture blockading a room. Figures are reticent: they walk away, turn their backs, sit at a remove and ebb beneath roughly applied tints. We meet our mint boy, again and again.

On a long central wall hangs Habakuk (2017), a line of eight vast paintings of freight cars that visualize the process of interacting with Tal R’s works. We possess the cargo (the visual cues), but are untethered, lacking the frontal engine (or context) that would facilitate further discovery. This frustration finds form in a second room, where two large-scale paintings depict keyholes: through the first, obstinate blackness (Keyhole, 2016); the second, an elephant towering over a clown (Elephant Behind Clown Through Keyhole, 2009). These locks are mirrored in the shimmering reflections of a sun and a moon that vault over two seascapes: Sortedammen, in summer hues, and Sortedam, in twinkling blacks (both 2013). With the images once again refusing to divulge their significance (or lack thereof), we fall into a now familiar pattern: recognition to nothingness to self-directed creation – that is, uncut make-believe.

web_02.jpg

Tal R, Keyhole, 2016, pigment and rabbit-skin glue on canvas, 2.4 x 1.9 m. Courtesy: the artist and Cheim & Read, New York

Tal R, Keyhole, 2016, pigment and rabbit-skin glue on canvas, 2.4 x 1.9 m. Courtesy: the artist and Cheim & Read, New York

In the following room is House of Prince (2000–04), a rally of around 200 roughly-hewn experiments with geometric abstraction, the compositions of which were dictated by a set of rules formulated by the artist. Contrastingly, a congested fourth space is plunged into darkness and stalked by a mob of distorted sculptures, some kinetic, others stock-still: an insect flexing its limbs, a silver Jack-o'-lantern in a trainer, an orb of yellow tendons. Swan Lake (2016) sets dangling hunks of meaty pink material in rotation. As spotlights sling their ghoulish silhouettes onto the walls, these half-formed automata wheeze and clink, somehow fatigued by their very existence.

If the scenes in the first room were happy flashbacks, then these are their macabre counterparts: those grizzly spirits that rematerialize under the cloak of the darkness. This is exemplified by Deaf Institute (2017): 99 collages hanging within a narrow labyrinth, peppered with violent, libidinal iconography and nonsensical riddles: ‘TEETH MEAT’; ‘milky milky milky’; ‘NIGHT I CANT REMEMBER’. These assemblages revive the fable of the artist as a tragic (anti-)hero, lamenting as they do the Faustian deal that one strikes upon assuming the role of seer in a world that often wishes to remain unseen.

Tal R, Swan Lake, 2016, mixed media on rotating plinth, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Tal R, Swan Lake, 2016, mixed media on rotating plinth, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Tal R, Swan Lake, 2016, mixed media on rotating plinth, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Art objects can be cruel, deceptive beasts; paintings, fiends who frequently conceal their earliest ambitions and assays beneath an impenetrable external layer. Annie Dillard is scrupulous: ‘A painting covers its tracks.’ Here, not so. For Tal R, painting is the tracks alone, a continuous supplement to life that might render everyday enigmas intelligible. To embrace the artist's own metaphor: painting is a colon: it always follows, and is always followed by, another. With this principle in place, we ask: the academy is? A well-constructed joke: an acknowledgement that art academies are well-intentioned miscalculations that attempt to freeze and formalize something forever in motion: a motion that, like life, is perennially remade, over and over and over again.

Main image: Tal R, Heavy Hair, 2002, (detail), oil, crayon, glitter, pencil and paper on linen, 2 x 2 m. Courtesy: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk

‘Academy of Tal R’ is on view at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, until 21 January 2018

Harry Thorne is assistant editor of frieze and a contributing editor of The White Review. He is based in Berlin, Germany.

Issue 192

First published in Issue 192

January - February 2018

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
At La Panacée, Montpellier, Nicolas Bourriaud’s manifesto for a new movement and attempt to demarcate an artistic peer...
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018