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Pia Fries | Museum Kurhaus Kleve

Installation view of Proteus and Polymorphia: Hendrick Goltzius & Pia Fries,
2017, Museum Kurhaus Kleve.

Proteus und Polymorphia
Hendrick Goltzius & Pia Fries

Museum Kurhaus Kleve
8 October 2017 - 11 February 2018

On the occasion of its twentieth anniversary in 2017, the Museum Kurhaus Kleve is presenting an exhibition from October 8, 2017 to February 11, 2018 that pays tribute to passages of his career to date and brings together the past and the present. In an accentuated exhibition of works, it combines an important focus of its collection with a highly renowned companion. More than four hundred years separate the artistic oeuvre of the late 16th and early 17th century mannerist Hendrick Goltzius and the contemporary painter Pia Fries.

It is the first time ever that both top-class artistic positions are comprehensively confronting each other. Both share a love of metamorphosis, which is why Pia Fries joins the subtitle of the exhibition in addition to the honorary title Proteus given to Goltzius by artist biographer Karel van Mander as so-called Polymorphia - and thus allows tongue-in-cheek associations with a fictitious, antique-looking artist couple.

2017 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the copper engraver, draftsman and painter Hendrick Goltzius (Bracht 1558-1617 Haarlem), who came from the Lower Rhine. The magnificent inventory of around 100 copper engravings is in the Angerhausen Collection, an important bundle that came into the hands of the city of Kleve in 1982 and increased the inventory of old art in the Kleve Museum. They form the basis for the first comprehensive print retrospective in thirty-five years on the Lower Rhine, which Hendrick Goltzius will present in an ingenious context with loans from Germany and the Netherlands.

In 1997, the internationally renowned painter Pia Fries (*1955 in Beromünster, Switzerland) was the first artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum Kurhaus Kleve. Even then, her oeuvre was characterized by dedicated references to the history of painting. Exactly on the twentieth anniversary of the museum, she returns to put her latest painting, which has been dealing intensively with Hendrick Goltzius since 2010, in an obvious synthesis with his highly complex pictorial creations.

Hendrick Goltzius: Proteus

Hendrick Goltzius is one of the most important engravers, draftsmen and painters of his time. Even during his lifetime, he received remarkable honors and renown for his stylistic sophistication and technical brilliance in the art of engraving. As an enterprising publisher, he was active on the international stage and, through the mass media dissemination of his works, became a catalyst for important artistic innovations at the end of the 16th century.

In his works, Goltzius demonstrated inimitable virtuosity and versatility. Karel van Mander (1548-1606), the Dutch artist biographer and companion, described him in his 1604 Schilderboek as a proteus of art who was able to “find his way into every style.” Accordingly, Goltzius' oeuvre consists of an amazing synthesis of his own and the foreign, of the new and the old, of the art of the north and that of the south.

With works such as the so-called master engravings, six scenes from the life of Mary, which were engraved in the manner of Albrecht Dürer, Lucas van Leyden or Parmigianino, Goltzius demonstrated a chameleon-like ability to appropriate styles and techniques, which, with imitation, always resulted in surpassing the models had purposes. In his veritable art of metamorphosis, Goltzius presents himself as an artist who fully reflects on art history, who only makes himself disappear behind the works of others, only to finally emerge from their shadow as a consummate master.

In addition to central works by Goltzius, Jan Harmensz. Muller (1571-1628), Jan Saenredam (1565-1607), Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629) and Jacob Matham (1571-1631) important artists from his circle are also represented.

Pia Fries: Polymorphia

Pia Fries is one of the great painters of our time, whose work can be found in international art museums all over the world. In 2017 she was the first female artist to receive the Gerhard Altenbourg Prize, which honors outstanding life's work by contemporary artists. As justification, the board of trustees described her as a representative of the purest painting, which is characterized by a particularly creative use of color.

In her oeuvre, Pia Fries cites models from art and cultural history, whose found motifs or patterns she dynamically processes in her furious abstract painting. Since 2010 she has been working on fragments from the copper engravings of the Mannerist master Hendrick Goltzius. Initially, she devoted herself to his iconic flag-waver (1587), the almost strutting figure of a young flag-bearer at the front of an army, whose waving flag – a sign of recognition in a battle that must not be taken by the enemy – takes up more than two-thirds of the picture.

Her most recent focus is on the Himmelstürmer (1588), a series of four engravings with the mythological figures Tantalus, Icarus, Phaethon and Ixion, which Goltzius depicts in a snapshot of falling in a staggering struggle against gravity. All associated associations - loss, pain or death, but also freedom, lightness or independence - are multiplied with the means of her painting.

"For me, this is the formative, creative process that means 'polymorphia': I take what has become a symbol, look at it from my current perspective and let it 'become new'," says Pia Fries.

Old and new enter into a productive connection in her pictures, she suddenly catapults old inventory into a new, modern perspective full of painterly furor, high color intensity and radical expression. Pia Fries addresses aspects such as the hatching of the engravings, the rhythm of the images, the anatomy of the bodies or the outburst of strong emotions - such as the fear of the sitter at the moment of falling. She develops her pictures from the colors, from the lines and from the circumstances. Rigorously excluding the depictive, she creates intensive color bodies and strands of lines that lead out of or into the picture, and visualizes forces that push inwards or outwards.

On her pictorial bodies, which depending on the format also lie on the floor, she works with brushes, spatulas, knives, combs or rakes. She pours paint in a targeted manner or shapes it into color pastes. She scrapes dried-up areas off again or scratches them with a knife – in order to bring out the quintessence. She combines three-dimensional color areas with open spaces and supplements them with screen printing elements and collage techniques.

Pia Fries studied from 1977 to 1980 at the Kunstgewerbeschule Luzern and from 1980 to 1986 at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where she graduated in 1986 as a master student of Gerhard Richter. Since then she has held various teaching positions, first in Düsseldorf, later professorships in Karlsruhe, Berlin and, since 2014, in Munich. She lives and works in Dusseldorf.

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