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Initiation into the Sub-Culture:
“Heavenly Creatures” in the Kunstraum at Deutsche Bank

Positions in young American figurative painting will be presented in an unusual group exhibition in the Kunstraum at Deutsche Bank Salzburg from 7/22 through 8/31. Initiated by the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, “Heavenly Creatures” transports the viewer into the realm of juvenile desire while addressing the uncanny, the ghostly, and the romantic in popular culture.

“The nicest people almost always have weak lungs or bone diseases. Isn’t that awfully romantic?” asks the character played by Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures, made in 1994. Based on a real incident, Jackson tells the story of two young girls who become friends in the early fifties in Christchurch, New Zealand; in a love relationship that bears homoerotic traits, they descend into a psychotic fantasy world of medieval kingdoms and paradisiacal gardens, only to finally commit one very real murder.

Hideaki Kawashima: Dark Idea, 2004
Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg

Teenage Angst, romanticism, a longing for death, the desire for intimacy and protection: in the context of the new event series NEXT GENERATION, the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery is currently putting on an unusual exhibition in the Kunstraum at Deutsche Bank Salzburg; its title Heavenly Creatures draws on the very elements that lent the film of the same name its cult status. Curated by the artist Lisa Ruyter, who divides her time between New York and Vienna, and the New York-based art historian Max Henry, the show presents international positions among artists of the younger generation that address the genre of portraiture and the representation of the human body in painting. At the same time, there is an interest in portraying abysmal alternative worlds, the realm of the subconscious, the uncanny, and the repressed – the “awfully romantic” desires of a youth culture that drives its parents to tears and that nourishes itself on the media images of a gigantic entertainment and fashion industry.

Rita Ackermann: You knocked the salt over, Installation, 2004
Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg

While today’s heavenly creatures like to listen to Marilyn Manson or slink through night clubs dressed as androgynous dandies in designer clothing by Victor and Rolf, the image on the exhibition’s invitation card seems to suggest that the path to the other side is paved with a knowledge of certain rituals: You knocked the salt over, the 2004 installation by the New York-based artist Rita Ackermann, portrays a veritable Witch’s Sabbath, a secret society of perilous urban beauties attending to their magical and erotic tasks, apparently inspired by Goya and Grunge alike. The soot-black cauldron in Ackermann’s installation seems to imply that art is alchemy. In this vein, for many of the artists shown in Heavenly Creatures, an experimentation with gender roles and identities is connected to a deep familiarity with the visual language of mass culture whose ingredients inspire dreams of beauty, sex, and rebellion.

The curators of Heavenly Creatures, however, deliberately juxtapose these promises of collective happiness and organized political commitment with signs of personal myth and obsession. “Our icons have disappointed us, whether they’re VIPs, priests, politicians, or athletes. Despite this, art still stubbornly attempts to harmonize all the various influences surrounding us,” according to a statement on the exhibition. In turning to their own fantastic and secretive symbols, which derive as much from popular culture as they do from art history, they’re entirely en vogue. Thus, Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle is planning a large exhibition on the theme next year with the show Ideal Worlds – New Romanticism in Contemporary Art. Fed up with bad news, war reports, and destructive images of terror, artists have begun searching for places of security and refuge, according to the makers of the Romanticism exhibition. The need for escape, ideals, and hope of rescue is becoming more and more urgent; ultimately, it is a longing for an eternally safe and secure world. A whole group of young painters has turned resolutely to the Romantic spirit, to the longing for the paradisiacal, the beautiful, and the fairy tale-like.

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