We like to try new things in life. When it comes to art we are drawn to things that are familiar, but we also like to be surprised. Josef Fischnaller, Austrian-born photographer based in Berlin does something just like that…
Fischnaller’s exhibition at Cadogan Contemporary titled Prächtig is a selection of works inspired by the Renaissance. Large scale high definition prints catch the eye with some familiar subjects re-enacted by contemporary models. The artist is known for high-end fashion photography and photographs of opera singers and movie stars.
This Renaissance inspired series of prints recreate settings and compositions of paintings by the old masters with a twist. The concept is not particularly new, ‘paintings after’ someone or other were already popular since the Renaissance. Much more recently Cindy Sherman did a series of self-portraits after several iconic artworks, in her case there was a definite feminist angle, readdressing the balance in the art history and challenging the male gaze. Since then we had many feminist artists doing similar things, and many more artists with curious twists on iconic pieces from the Western art canon, (swapping cats and dogs for human figures for example proved to be quite popular, if only for pure entertainment value). So what is Fischnaller doing in his photographs? There is more to them than meets the eye…
The key is to look at the images not once, not twice, but even more times and really focus on the details. As for the inspiration with Renaissance there are works based on painters associated with Italian and Northern Renaissance and 17th century Italian and Dutch paintings. Several are based on Caravaggio’s famous works, such as Narziss, after Caravaggio’s Narcissus (1594-1596) or Bacchus (2009).
The models are clearly contemporary, the artist does not try to hide that at all, which sometimes results in pastiche, or a not very tasteful semi-erotic imagery. Having mentioned that, the majority of works in this exhibition are rather clever, not mindless works after someone else. There is something baroque, theatrical about them. Only looking closely we start noticing that it’s all make-believe, like in theatre. People in Fischnaller’s portraits wear costumes, which appear expensive from the distance but are made of wrapping paper, their jewellery is made or champagne bottle-tops and buttons and the hair is adorned by paper clips.
Aside from portraits there are images of floral arrangements in shapely vases in the manner of Dutch painters, and still-life paintings composed of fruit and other food items. Hidden in those works are surprising details, such as little figurines, toy cars, fragments of wrapping and more buttons. In one of the flower vases there is a reflection of an interior, an image within image, which echoes Jan Van Eyck’s famous Arnolfini Portrait (1434). The Dutch painters of flowers and genre scenes liked to moralise discreetly and to remind their customers of vanity and temporality. Just as the flowers in the vases, which would never bloom at the same time in real life, Fischnaller’s art is the art of make-believe.
Josef Fischnaller Prächtig is on show at Cadogan Contemporary 13th – 31st May 2019.
Read more here:
Artist’s website: http://joseffischnaller.com/home.html
Gallery website: https://www.cadogancontemporary.com/