Spanning two floors of LGDR’s landmark Beaux-Arts-style townhouse, Rear View presents a transhistorical selection of over sixty paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and photographs that explore representation of the human figure as seen from behind—an enduring, wide-ranging paradigm that has exerted potent influence upon modern and contemporary artists. In addition to rare twentieth-century masterworks by Félix Vallotton, Edgar Degas, René Magritte, Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele, Paul Cadmus, Aristide Maillol, and others, Rear View brings together seminal works by a diverse group of living artists spanning generations.
Exhibition on view from April 18th to June 1, 2023.
Long before the term Rückenfigur was popularized in the nineteenth century by Caspar David Friedrich, painters and sculptors from as far back as antiquity deployed the human figure seen from behind as a conceptual and formal device. Rear View provides a lens onto this specific genre as it pertains to artists’ desire to capture a range of human states and emotions—contemplation, longing, voyeurism, refusal, fetishism, and defiance—while drawing our attention to the act of looking itself and to the viewer’s role in constructing meaning and identity.
Many contemporary artists have engaged the Rückenfigur trope, deliberately harnessing its critical potential. In one of the most compelling examples, Carrie Mae Weems has photographed herself in canonical landscapes and charged historical sites over many years, as a means of addressing complex issues around race, gender, and class, while also subjecting the signature paradigm of Romanticism to radical, politicized revision.
From the idealized bodies celebrated in Hellenistic sculpture to the bathers glimpsed in snapshot-like paintings and drawings by Impressionists and early modernists, images of nude bodies portrayed from behind have been integral
to the unfolding story of figuration in the West. Urs Fischer directly quotes the Classical origins of this art historical paradigm in a monumental new candle sculpture made specifically for Rear View. Divine Interventions (2023) reprises one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roman marble Three Graces (second century CE), turning the trio of iconic feminine paragons, Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance), into ephemeral forms cast in wax. Admiring this sculptural group—and in essence joining the Graces—is a wax effigy of Pauline Karpidas, the legendary contemporary art patron who once owned the ancient work that the Met would come to acquire.
The eroticism of “rear view” images emerges not only from the frisson of nudity—the iconography of the human derrière emerges as a whole transhistorical subject onto itself—but from the narrative implication of intimacy between the depicted subject and the artist, the viewer’s fantasizing gaze and the sensuousness of the image on canvas. The trope of the mirror, the ritual of bathing, and the lounging or sleeping body are typical rear view scenarios taken up by artists across the centuries—from Edgar Degas to René Magritte, from Félix Vallotton to Barkley L. Hendricks, through to our present day. Fernando Botero’s painting The Bathroom (1989) features a woman, at once monumentaland delicate, gazing at herself in the mirror, wearing only heels and a headband. The figure’s unselfconscious posture suggests she is unaware of the artist, invested only in herself.
By contrast, John Currin’s Nude in a Convex Mirror (2015) looks over her shoulder, presumably at the painter who is depicting the curves of her accentuated buttocks—but also at the viewer observing the action. The subject of Paul Cadmus’s c. 1965 crayon drawing Standing Male Nude (NM 48) likewise peeks over his shoulder at the artist and the viewer, but with a loaded glance and flirtatious pose—one foot ever so slightly lifted to reveal its sole—that encode a sexual charge of mutual male gazes into an otherwise classical image. Jared French, who was part of the homosocial circle of artists around Cadmus, are represented in the exhibition by emblematic, dreamlike paintings populated uniquely by idealized male figures. The performative signifiers of masculinity emerge as an important subtheme of Rear View, evident in Giorgio de Chirico’s hyper-stylized Gladiatori (1928), Francis Bacon’s tormented figure in Study for Portrait of John Edwards (1986), and Andy Warhol’s abstracted depiction of a butch man’s hind quarters.
In their foreclosure of a complete picture, turned figures such as Currin’s nude also signal fetishism, another theme explored in Rear View. A number of works in the exhibition illuminate ways in which contemporary painting has absorbed the cinematic motif of the rear view, translating the camerawork of film noir and Hitchcockian thrillers like Rear Window (1954) into paint on canvas or rich black-and-white photographic images. Eric Fischl and Danielle Mckinney, for example, draw upon our collective cinematic imagination in composing their deeply narrative scenes, often populated by mysterious figures shown from the back and seemingly unaware of being observed. By contrast, but with no less enigmatic intensity, Harry Callahan’s mid-century rear-view photographs of his beloved wife, Eleanor, testify to the impact of cinematic vision when personalized to a single, deceptively simple subject.
In this context, another thematic trope of Rear View manifests in the work of Edgar Degas. Second only to his images of ballet dances, Degas’s voyeuristic bathing scenes dominate his vast oeuvre. On view in the exhibition, the artist’s delicate 1889–92 pastel Femme se peignant depicts a young nude female, seen from behind, combing her raven-colored tresses over her head. Degas’s scopophilic gaze focuses on the model’s flowing mane—a visual and psychological effect echoed by Domenico Gnoli’s sumptuous large-scale canvas Curly Red Hair (1969), which lingers over the texture of auburn curls cascading down a woman’s back. Tightly cropped to the subject at hand and denying the identifying details of the figure, this painting reveals Gnoli’s seeming disinterest in the body, except as a support for signifying ornament.
The fragmented, fetishized human body emerged as a loaded trope in art history, according to esteemed feminist scholar Linda Nochlin in her study The Body in Pieces: The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity (1994). Spurred by the violence and social upheaval of the French Revolution, Nochlin notes, artists began to systematically deploy radical spatial cropping as well as isolating specific body parts, in order to explore the specific conditions of modern urban life—alienation, desire, suffering, obsession, ambiguous anonymous experiences. Nochlin’s observations find a contemporary echo in Issy Wood’s intimate canvas on view in the exhibition: Health and hotness (2018) shows only the muscular back and bottom of a swimmer framed by her purple bathing suit. Wood’s enigmatic image is also a meditation on the impact of compressed and splitting planes and shapes—a study of the body as an abstraction.
Political refusal and personal irreverence also figure into art historical manifestations of the rear view. Six photographs from Anselm Kiefer’s polemical 1969 series Occupations (Besetzungen) take up this political mantle.
In this series, the young artist photographed himself—often shown from behind, mimicking the heroic stance of Friedrich’s Rückenfigur—performing the Nazi salute in front of European monuments and natural sites. Of the series, controversial then as now, art historian Benjamin Buchloh remarked that it is “a real working through of German history. You have to inhabit it to overcome it.”
“String bottoms together in place of signatures for petition of peace.” This is how Yoko Ono described her infamous Film No. 4 (Bottoms) (1966–67)—an 80-minute montage of 365 human bottoms, featuring different genders, races, and body types. Marshaling her conceptual Fluxus rigor and sly humor into a powerful political protest against the Vietnam War, Ono’s provocative film retains its antiwar bite as well as its universalizing humanism today.
In the diptych that Francesco Clemente created for Rear View, Gold on Green, Green on Gold (2023), the artist slyly questions the front/back logic that underpins the exhibition as well as the binary thinking that governs so much of Western culture. Using gold leaf and a radically reduced palette, Clemente portrays ambiguous, gender-indeterminate figures that appear to be engaged in oral sex. The artist muses, “Maybe our mistaken ideas—based on duality, based on ‘us against them’—begin with the fact that we can only see half of what there is. We can only face one direction. We feel incomplete because we can never see completely ourselves. Painting may repair that, offering a vision of totality.”
About LGDR ~ Founded by Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, Amalia Dayan, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, LGDR is a collaborative international art venture that brings expertise and vision to its disciplines. LGDR represents and partners with artists and estates—realizing seminal projects and furthering legacies. From placing primary and secondary works of the highest quality and advising clients on the development of their collections, to working closely with leading museums and foundations, and presenting a curated program with scholarly publications, LGDR puts artistic voices first.
In forming LGDR, the four partners merge their respective specialties across twentieth-and twenty-first-century art, their individual reputations as leaders and tastemakers, and their separate histories as principals of galleries with exemplary exhibition programs. Both international and local in practice and perspective, LGDR has unique spaces and unmatched market knowledge in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong, and produces off-site presentations around the world.
On April 18, 2023, LGDR will open the doors of its new flagship gallery in New York City. Built in 1932 as the premises of Wildenstein & Co, the site has been sensitively restored and updated by HS2 Architecture, New York. Inaugurating its first exhibition at the address in April 2023, LGDR will usher in a new chapter in the life of this exceptional cultural landmark.
The inaugural exhibition, Rear View, will be on view from April 18 through June 3, 2023 at LGDR flagship headquarters, 19 East 64th Street, NYC.
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn will leave the existing partnership to reopen Salon 94, returning her focus to exhibitions at 3 East 89th Street, and to her art advisory practice. Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Amalia Dayan will continue their commitment to artists and estate representation, as well as their secondary market expertise under the banner of Lévy Gorvy Dayan at 19 East 64th Street. They will present curated exhibitions and provide a full listing of services to their international clients as part of the newly formed Art Family Office.