ACADEMY OF TAL R at Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam

For those unfamiliar with the art of Tal R it could be difficult, at times, to identify his work which one could best describe as diverse. It can be problematic to recognise a style or a direction or even a modus operandi. But for this fifty-year-old Israeli/Danish artist that very diversity, that eclecticism is the style, it’s the way he works. He is rather like Picasso in that everything is inspiration, everything is grist to the mill and any means of presentation is valid as the large body of work from the past 20 years makes clear.

There are figurative paintings, there are abstracts, there is a series of giant square radial collages using pictures clipped from magazines, there are drawings, there are artist’s books and there are sculptures.

I really liked the early drawing’s which had a very surrealist feel to them displaying, perhaps more than the paintings, an imagination unfettered by the limitations of reason. It’s as if the images arrive from nowhere and are as much a mystery to the artist as to the viewer.

The main sculpture room has bronzes, pieces made from fabric, pieces that look like melted wax and others made from shiny plastic. Another room is full, floor to ceiling with small canvases in varying styles and colours, some are little masterpieces, some are not. But these are not individual paintings; this is an installation, House of Prince, and as such the pictures become part of a whole, almost a microcosm of the artist’s work displaying his sweeping eclecticism and freedom of spirit.

While, with House of Prince, the pictures hang neatly on the wall in almost a pastiche of an exhibition, in the main room the paintings are not hung at all but rest on two narrow shelves, one above the other, making you see them in a completely different way.

Some works appear almost flippant, while others are clearly more serious and one piece in particular combines the two. In a corner a full-size horse hangs by one leg from the ceiling covered in a patchwork of different striped fabrics. The colours of the patchwork are bright but it is stripes that dominate. The piece appears playful, humorous even, but the story behind it is not. During the war a relative of Tal R (R for Rosenzweig), was forced to work in the mines and his only friend was a blind horse that lived permanently underground. The stripes of The Horse in Pyjamas echo the striped clothes the forced labourers wore in the mines.

The horse hangs at the end of what is certainly the most impressive and important work in the show, the giant Habakuk specially painted for this exhibition at its first venue, the Louisiana in Copenhagen. The nine enormous canvases, each three by five meters, are displayed on a curved wall and together clearly represent a train, the vertical strips denoting the slats of the freight trucks as they trundle on to an unspecified destination.

This is a major exhibition of a major artist, though one with whom you may not yet be familiar. I recommend you get to know Tal R and you will discover an artist whose strength is in his diversity, his fertile imagination and his ability to present his view of the world in a freewheeling, uninhibited way. His work will provide those who are privileged to look at it with a rich seam of art which will prove endlessly stimulating and satisfying.    Michael Hasted   13th October 2017

The Academy of Tal R continues at the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam until 21st January.

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