Robischon Gallery is pleased to present “Golden Memes,” the gallery’s second solo exhibition for New York-based artist, Christian Rex van Minnen. With his characteristic virtuoso, Old Master’s approach toward painting paired with his signature Surrealist distortions, van Minnen cultivates the intensely curious territory between the 17th C Dutch Golden Age as it meets the contemporary world – both with an expression of excess and the appropriation of all that is exotic. With a current global economy that allows for world-wide access, van Minnen likens this era’s lust for the material to the earlier lucrative Dutch trade of the goods, fruits and animals of colonized lands which were richly depicted in the trompe l'oeil masterworks of European painting. As his exhibition title suggests, the values and ideas disseminated through this specific period of painting now enjoy other avenues of communication and have become well-recognized cultural touchstones – the look of which he lavishly explores within his own painting. Whether in the form of a typical female nude, a glistening bunch of ripened grapes or a whole fresh fish, the transmitted ideas, or memes, become purposefully awkward or intentionally confusing in van Minnen’s paintings when experienced out of context. This in-between realm, outside of prescribed comfort zones is where Christian Rex van Minnen, immersed in a language of interference and dissonance, travels – employing intelligence, wit and a demanding painterly exactitude as his means of navigation.
The celebrated, still life subject matter of Dutch painters glorified the opulence of the wealthy merchant class – with its compositions teaming with elaborate ceramic or glass vessels overflowing with lemons, grapes or tulips, baked treats and an abundant buffet of seafood or meats – often freshly-killed. Known as “pronkstilleven,” this readily recognized style of painting becomes a vivid grotesquerie under van Minnen’s playfully wicked sensibilities in VOC Jellyfish Fry. The letters VOC stand for “Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie,” essentially the first Dutch capitalist brand – which appears in cursive behind the painting’s pointedly unnerving objects and on a small yellow frosted cake. Upon further viewing, the cake’s expected sweet-filling seems to have been replaced instead by a kind of bloody ooze – perhaps as an acknowledgement of the true cost of luxury. Discovered as well, is seemingly sticky, gelatinous covering of jellyfish dominating the banquet, while a slimy, tongue-lolling fish bloated in cartoony proportions sits alongside a burnt lemon and steaming coal embers. This beyond peculiar fish fry may metaphorically send the otherwise cherished ideals up in its ethereally painted smoke. Additional curiosities can be found – a recognizably-Dutch blue and white Delftware vessel is bulbously distorted as it rests amongst the drippings on a thick marble shelf, while on the opposite side, a pink and blue hospital baby blanket – standard for contemporary newborns – is entwined amidst the entrails, although it is clearly displaced in this potent conflation of images. While successfully achieving to paint in the mode of past Dutch artists, van Minnen overtly veers to the left as he offers a biting critique of excess that his artistic forebears did not.
Van Minnen’s painting entitled Google Gnostic emphasizes that images impart a shared cultural knowledge as much as the painting both celebrates and mocks our most often used contemporary means of obtaining knowledge: the internet. The six graphic letters of the search engine Google become a wildly bizarre and provocative mix of cartoon balloon worms, tattooed snake shapes, a torso-like form with dismembered limbs tattooed “YOUR MOM,” a bleeding octopus, hovering endangered Monarch butterflies and gaudy Easter eggs. Even the artist relied on Google’s services for an element of his painting entitled Eva Prima Pandora in order to obtain the information to translate its painted banner title. The artist was attracted to the randomness of an inaccurate Arabic translation of “Eva Prima Pandora” which is located above the reclining female figure. Van Minnen’s Eve/Pandora, stylistically appropriated from a 16th C Jean Cousins painting, dramatically suggests the potential chaos unleashed by “woman” – the “fallen” first woman of the Bible and the first human woman created by the Greek gods. The swirling magenta and purple surface of the figure, which also appears in other paintings throughout the exhibition, is representative of epicuticular wax, a substance found on certain plants and fruits on the surface of a ripened plum or grapes that when beaded with water, provided Dutch painters with a very challenging image to recreate in paint. Van Minnen speculates that the difficult to depict jewel-like quality of water-on-wax could have served as a test of a painter’s illusionistic prowess – a meme-like inside joke. With his painting entitled Epicuticular Wax, van Minnen vulgarizes the subject in both size and gesture, yet at the same time, it allows him to display his own considerable illusory painting talents.
The artist states, “Golden Memes” is inspired by and is in part an exploration of the Dutch Golden Age of painting where many technical and compositional aspects are unified and perfected. The use of oil paints as special effects, geometry, female nudes and grapes are amongst the more common memes, yet out of context, these memes are far more revealing. I love the aesthetic of interference and dissonance. In my work, tattoos, are a good example of that and have become an effective approach toward exploring three potential ways in which to read illusion; as the tattoo itself, the object itself and the relationship between the two. On a conceptual level, I am really interested in this space of confusion – and the inherent difficulty to really embrace a plurality of truth.”
Christian Rex van Minnen received a BA from Regis College and a Master’s degree from Regis University in Denver. He has been featured in numerous group exhibitions across the US and in Europe including Florida State University Museum of Fine Art, Seattle Pacific Arts Center, Biologiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden, ISE Cultural Foundation, New York and ROJO Art Space in Barcelona, Spain with additional exhibitions in Hamburg, Germany, Copenhagen, Denmark and Sydney, Australia. An Artist-in-Residence at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, CO and an Artist’s Audition National Call winner, van Minnen has had numerous paintings and interviews frequently published in Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose and other publications along with a strong presence and considerable following on art blogs such as the Huffington Post and Beinart Surreal Art Collective, to name a few.