This is my commentary on Victor Man, a well known modern artist. In my opinion, he is one of the best artists today and should be given much attention much more than he is right now. I believe that in order to understand underground paintings and art, one should first look into Victor Man’s works.
Victor Man’s paintings look as if they have darkened over the centuries. There is something sacred about them, like pictures or devotional objects hanging in the twilight of chapels or churches. In our enlightened, medialized world, in which everything is on the surface, and things have to be brought “to light”, they seem to have fallen out of time. They carry the viewer off into a mysterious cosmos in which strange metamorphoses take place under the protection of darkness. The animate and the inanimate, the human and the animal, the masculine and the feminine are in Man’s work in constant exchange and, as in an alchemistic process, in fusion.
The images, objects and installations with which the 1974-born artist has become internationally known over the past ten years are as tempting as they are disturbing. The 2008 painting Grand Practice, for instance, one of his best-known works, shows a bent figure on all fours – half human, half horse, squeezed into leather harness and latex, equipped with mane and hooves. The boots, the silvery shimmering fabric inevitably remind us of fetish clothing and the rituals of dominance and submission – as well as the painfully cramped posture. What is artificial or organic, what is skin, hair or fabric, what are limbs or prostheses, remains in the dark in the most real sense of the word.
It is precisely this non-obviousness that opens up other possibilities of recognition, remembrance and see. Man’s creature could have its origins in the banal flood of images of the Internet as well as mythical creatures. Grand Practice – “The Great Exercise”, that brings to mind the accomplishment of secret practices that only initiates can master, be it in magical, sexual or spiritual contexts. All these practices are linked to the act of self-awareness. Perhaps the exercise could also be to realise that life is not so human at all, but animalistic or full of suffering and existential abandonment. Of course, Grand Practice can be read as a symbol of the ‘human condition’. But even with that, one should not think oneself safe. For human nature is confronted with an artificial one in which everything is “made” – as a constructor construction. In other pictures, too, such as Untitled (2006) or Shaman (2008), people are stuck under masks and rubber suits, tied up in bizarre costumes. “This being could be a man or a woman,” wrote the English curator and critic Tom Morton, “a fighter or doctor, someone who injures or heals. What is important, however, is not what is hidden under this tight, shiny skin, but the skin itself and the stories or possibilities that can be projected onto it. In this sense, Man’s paintings also function like skins: paradoxically, it no longer matters where the images on which they are based come from, what their “content” or the actual context was. “It is as if I were to strip the picture of its original meaning to construct a new one from it,” he said in 2007 in an interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “in this sense it is a process of emptying. But even after this emptying, there is still a layer of the original meaning in the picture. It is as if I were robbing the pictures of their soul and taking them to another place.”
It is precisely through this practice that one of the most complex and distinctive oeuvres of recent contemporary art was created. Now Victor Man is being honoured as “Artist of the Year of Deutsche Bank” and, starting in March 2014, will be honoured with a major solo exhibition in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. The award is aimed at artists who have already created a substantial work in which paper or photography also play a role. At the same time, it was also initiated to honour the impulses coming from the new art centres in Africa, Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe. Man’s hometown, the Transylvanian Cluj, where he still works in his former youth room in addition to his studio in Berlin, is also one of them: Situated halfway between Bucharest and Budapest, Cluj has developed a vital art scene whose international radiance is inseparably linked to the career of Man and Galerie Plan B, which opened in 2005 with a solo show of him. It was the first gallery exhibition in Romania to be covered by a major US art magazine, Art in America. Plan B was initiated by the two artists Mihai Pop and Adrian Ghenie not only as a production and exhibition space for contemporary art but also as a research and documentation centre, which makes undiscovered Romanian artists and works from the last 50 years internationally known.
In Victor Man’s dark world, however, this reunification does not take place as an act of liberation. At most, it is subliminal. Like the horse being in Grand Practice, the androgynous figures of Le Chandler remain in ritualised poses, costumes and poses. Much more than a triumph or departure, they speak of tolerance, self-control and contemplation. In artistic restraint, they keep their secrets, “the veil that lies over things”. Batailles Acéphale, Joyce’s Dedalus, the myths and images that these beings have created, lie hidden and forgotten in them layer by layer. And this is precisely their promise – that they will let us feel what cannot be said, shown or rediscovered.
If you would like to know more about Victor Man, you can find out more about him and his works here.