Enrico David: Head Gas

Studio 231


“Head Gas” is the first New York exhibition by Italian-born, Berlin-based artist Enrico David.

Cover Image:

“Enrico David: Head Gas,” 2012. Exhibition view: New Museum. Photo: Jesse Untracht-Oakner

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Over the past twenty years, David has produced a body of work encompassing painting, drawing, sculpture, and collage that draws upon a rich variety of sources and expresses a range of complex emotional states. Although his work is highly celebrated throughout Europe—the artist was among the nominees for the 2009 Turner Prize, for example—David’s work has rarely been exhibited in the United States.

“Enrico David: Head Gas ,” 2012. Exhibition view: New Museum. Photo: Jesse Untracht-Oakner

The figures populating David’s work convey the struggle of adaptation, both physical and psychological, of the self and of the image. In his art, we see haunting, incomplete, and sometimes grotesque characters fighting against and merging into backgrounds comprising a personal lexicon of forms. These patterns are derived from craft, folk art, and twentieth-century design, as well as advertising, techniques of display, fashion, and art historical moments. Previously, David choreographed his figurative works to imply dramatic narratives, at times using the exhibition space as a stage. His exhibitions function as performances of self-analysis constructed and theatricalized specifically for public display. Through David’s highly personalized iconography, the works act as mirrors, reflecting viewers’ desires, fears, and vulnerabilities. In David’s more recent work, the implications and strands of psychological tension are enacted within a more formalized, image-based corporeality.

For his Studio 231 exhibition, David has created an entirely new body of work. The paintings and works on paper are part of a series of portraits rendered delicately in pencil and luminescent fields of acrylic paint applied with a sponge or caressing brush. David’s imagery suggests bodies at the point of apparition or dissolution—beings that cannot be contained or consumed, perhaps only passed through, and reluctantly present.

“I imagine these images as the product of a conscious, physiological act of will. To exist despite the alienating and antagonizing nature of their surrounding environment—as if a precarious and utterly temporary agreement was struck between them and the molecular components of paint and canvas, lines and colors, even the space itself, threaten to engulf them,” says David. “These conditions, as ridiculous and unlikely as they may sound, represent for me an experience that feels real, necessary to embrace, even optimistic.”

“Head Gas” also features a new series of hand-painted paravents. These folding screens, originally conceived by the artist for his own apartment, create an architectural intervention within the exhibition space, simultaneously connecting to the images occupying the gallery.

Enrico David is the second artist featured in the New Museum’s new Studio 231 series. The Museum inaugurated the series in October 2011, with a new installation and performances by London-based artist Spartacus Chetwynd. Studio 231 is a series of commissioned projects in the museum’s adjacent, ground-floor space at 231 Bowery. This new initiative will give international, emerging artists the opportunity to realize ambitious new works conceived especially for the space. These projects at 231 Bowery also seek to foster a new relationship between the artists and the public by allowing artists to create work outside the confines of the main museum building and in closer proximity to the energy of the street and to the creative space of the artist’s studio.

Enrico David was born in Ancona, Italy, in 1966. He studied fine art at Central Saint Martin’s in London. Recent solo exhibitions include “Repertorio ornamentale,” Fondazione Beviliacqua La Masa, Venice (2011); “How Do You Love Dzzzzt by Mammy?,” Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (2009); “Bulbous Marauder,” Seattle Art Museum (2008); and “Ultra Paste,” ICA London (2007). The artist’s most recent group exhibitions include “Secret Societies,” presented at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and CAPC Bordeaux, and “A Different Person,” Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (both 2011). Enrico David was nominated for the Tate’s Turner Prize in 2009. He currently lives and works in Berlin.

“Enrico David: Head Gas” is organized by Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator.

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Generous support for Studio 231 is provided by Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg, Susan and Leonard Feinstein, Hermine and David Heller, Lietta and Dakis Joannou, Toby Devan Lewis, and the Board of Trustees of the New Museum.

Additional support for Studio 231 is provided by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

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