The Anxious Salon: Narrative Content in Recent Figurative Painting

Large figurative paintings take up the gallery. Each painting has figures in a variety of poses and in different settings.

Installation view, The Anxious Salon: Narrative Content in Recent Figurative Painting, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1993. 

Hayden Gallery
Featured Artists
Vincent Desiderio
Atilla Richard Lukacs
Odd Nerdrum
Hanneline Rogeberg
Thomas Woodruff
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The Anxious Salon includes the work of five contemporary painters working within an academic or “Old Master” figurative narrative style, who update the tradition with ambiguous or disturbing contemporary content.

Represented mostly by monumentally scaled canvases, the three North American and two Norwegian artists included in the exhibition are Vincent Desiderio, Atilla Richard Lukacs, Odd Nerdrum, Hanneline Rogeberg, and Thomas Woodruff. In painting styles ranging from the illustrational to the grandiloquent, these artists demonstrate the virtuosic technical facility generally regarded as the basis of “good” or “serious” art as conventionally defined in the Western artistic tradition. Initially familiar and inviting due to their masterful representationalism, these paintings seduce the viewer wary of much of today’s cool, conceptual art until their psychologically complex and morally ambiguous subject matter makes itself felt.

In the works of Desiderio, Lukacs, Nerdrum, Rogeberg, and Woodruff, among others, we are witnessing a qualified return to beauty, an indulgence in the display of the nude body and in the physical act of painting. The presentation is, however, flawed, for the classical equation of the beautiful with the good no longer holds. These artists take the pervasive anxiety and pessimism of our times as their context and subject. Both artist and viewer therefore confront a dilemma: how to reconcile a painting vocabulary which had confirmed the human being in the world with an overriding message of alienation.

The exhibition includes Desiderio’s immense psychical narrative triptych Romance and Reunion, Lukacs’ imposing, erotically-charged groupings of skinheads, Nerdrum’s hapless wanderers in barren landscapes, Rogeberg’s interlocked arrangements of multi-generational women, and self-portraits from Woodruff’s Chromatic Aberration series of the artist as a symbol-laden crying clown.

Catalogue with text by Ron Platt and Helaine Posner.