The place I’m interested in is where the mind goes when it’s trying to make up for what isn’t there.
Cecily Brown makes paintings that give the appearance of being in continual flux, alive with the erotic energy of her expressive application and vivid color, shifting restlessly between abstract and figurative modes. Making reference to the giants of Western painting—from Paolo Veronese, Peter Paul Rubens, and Edgar Degas to Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, and Joan Mitchell—as well as to popular culture, she commands an aesthetic that breaks from the strictures of narrative to achieve an extraordinary visual and thematic fluidity. Her vigorous treatment of the nude figure in particular reveals a commitment to wresting conventional subjects free from their anticipated contexts. Punctuating her visual shorthand with moments of startling clarity, Brown maintains an endless, active present.
Raised in suburban Surrey, England, Brown studied under painter Maggi Hambling before attending art college. Her graduation from the Slade School of Fine Art in the early 1990s coincided with the rise of the Young British Artists but she didn’t share the group’s conceptual focus, ironic stance, and embrace of celebrity culture. Having spent six months in New York as an exchange student in 1992, she returned there to live in 1994, and, alongside contemporaries such as John Currin, helped to invest figurative painting with a renewed energy and critical significance that has continued to gather momentum.
Key to the success of Brown’s aesthetic is her ability to seemingly transform paint into flesh, embedding the human form within a frenzied, fragmented commentary on desire, life, and death. Her first major body of painting, from the mid-1990s, juxtaposes hedonistic rabbits with allusions to the still-life tradition; eventually, this led to the orgiastic scenes that would garner her wide and enduring recognition. In Brown’s hands, paint seems always to be in transition between liquid and solid, transparent and opaque states, and this material ballet is reflected in compositions themselves. “I think that painting is a kind of alchemy,” she has said. “The paint is transformed into image, and paint and image transform themselves into a third and new thing.”
Over the past twenty years, Brown’s work has evolved gradually, expanding in scale, diversifying in allusion and palette, and incorporating elements of landscape. Sometimes she uses improvisation to kick-start new paintings, allowing unplanned initial strokes to help dictate the works’ subsequent direction. On other occasions she borrows imagery from art history, popular culture, or the intersection of the two; All the Nightmares Came Today (2012), for example, riffs off David Montgomery’s notorious cover photograph for the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1968 album Electric Ladyland. In the studio, Brown consistently has multiple canvases in progress, moving between them in a manner that ensures a motif from one will find its way organically into another. She is also known for reworking paintings over a period of years—hardly surprising given the intense push and pull they embody.
Brown has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. In 2018–19, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark, presented an overview of her career; she also donated the painting that gave the survey its title—Where, When, How Often and with Whom. In the same year, she exhibited two large paintings in the main hall of the Metropolitan Opera, New York—and was the first artist invited to do so since Marc Chagall in 1966. In January 2020, she was invited to exhibit at Blenheim Palace, the eighteenth-century home of the Spencer-Churchill family, in Oxfordshire, England, producing a series of paintings that explore “a nation in turmoil.”
Ice and Fire: A Benefit Exhibition in Three Parts
October 15, 2020–January 31, 2021
The benefit exhibition Ice and Fire features works by more than forty artists who have enduring relationships with the Kitchen in New York. Installed within the organization’s three-story space in Chelsea, which is currently closed due to the global pandemic, the three-part exhibition is viewable online. Proceeds from sales will go toward a planned renovation on the occasion of the Kitchen’s fiftieth anniversary, ensuring that the nonprofit space will remain a platform for artistic experimentation in its historic and beloved building. Work by Cecily Brown, Roe Ethridge, Mark Grotjahn, Alex Israel, Ed Ruscha, Taryn Simon, Mary Weatherford, and Christopher Wool is included.
Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Capri 53.57), 2020 © Mark Grotjahn
Artist Plate Project
Coalition for the Homeless
November 16–December 14, 2020
Gagosian is pleased to support the Coalition for the Homeless’s Artist Plate Project fundraiser. Artwork by fifty artists, including Cecily Brown, Katharina Grosse, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Sarah Sze, Andy Warhol, Jonas Wood, and Christopher Wool, is featured on limited-edition dinner plates produced by Prospect and made available through Artware Editions to support the Coalition’s lifesaving programs. All of the funds raised by the sale of the plates will provide food, crisis services, housing, and other critical aid to thousands of people experiencing homelessness and instability. The purchase of one plate can feed seventy-five homeless and hungry New Yorkers.
Katharina Grosse, Shake Before Using, 2020 © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 2020
100 Drawings from Now
October 7, 2020–January 17, 2021
Drawing Center, New York
The benefit exhibition 100 Drawings from Now features drawings made by an international group of artists since early 2020, providing a snapshot of artistic production during the period of profound global unrest that has resulted from the ongoing health and economic crises, as well as the surge of activism in response to systemic racism, social injustice, and police brutality in the United States. Together, the donated works spotlight the urgency, intimacy, and universality of drawing during moments of upheaval and isolation. Proceeds from the sales will support the Drawing Center and the artists. Work by Cecily Brown, Giuseppe Penone, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Treasure Hunt #2, 2020 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Opened April 30, 2020
International Print Center New York
This online exhibition, centered on works by Mark Bradford, Cecily Brown, Glenn Brown, Enrique Chagoya, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, opens a dialogue between contemporary prints and the source material referenced. (Re)Print examines how artists revise, recontextualize, and personalize familiar imagery to elicit new thinking. Further, the pairings express the dynamic relationship between contemporary practice and the historical role that prints have played in image reproduction and dissemination, and in the shaping of history, culture, and beliefs.
Glenn Brown, Layered Portrait (after Lucian Freud) 4, 2008 © Glenn Brown
No Man’s Land
Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection
September 30, 2016–January 8, 2017
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC
Drawing from the Rubell Family Collection, the paintings and sculptural hybrids in N0 Man’s Land demonstrate the expressive and technical range of work by a generationally, aesthetically, and politically diverse group of contemporary women artists. Collectively, they populate “no man’s land”—an open, liberated, and adaptable creative space. The presentation focuses on the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture as a way to highlight how women artists have pushed and redefined the boundaries of such categories. Work by Cecily Brown, Jennifer Guidi, and Mary Weatherford is included.
Installation view, No Man’s Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, September 30, 2016–January 8, 2017. Artwork, left to right: © Mary Weatherford, © Kerstin Brätsch, © Sonia Gomes