Portrait in Hugo Boss 1997
Ghost Series 1994-6
Ghost Series 1994-6
Rainbow Series 1996
Rorschach Series 1997
Rorschach Series 1997 (detail)
My Twin Series 1996
My Twin Series 1996
Painting by Numbers
Painting by Numbers
Painting by Numbers
Exploding the terrain of representation, Candice Breitz employs a variety of darkly humorous and often disturbing tactics to strike out at stereotypes and visual conventions as presented and accepted in the media and popular culture. Working from such diverse sources as National Geographic, Penthouse and the National Inquirer, Breitz appropriates photographs and visual fragments and recontextualises these in bold, sometimes tasteless-seeming images, which, while jarring and discomforting for the viewer, radically challenge conventional wisdom and question currently accepted assumptions.
"I am interested in deploying the art work as a catalyst, one which momentarily freeze-frames problematic ways of making meaning, and renders them strange. My interest lies not in censoring the desires inspired by the commodity (be that commodity a hipper-than-thou consumer trademark or a cheaply printed centrefold), but in recasting them so as to expose their logic, and, in certain cases, to push their boundaries."
This month, Breitz will be one of three South African artists represented on the São Paulo Biennale (see News), on which she will exhibit six photographs from the 'Rainbow Series', her most controversial work to date.
In April 1998, Breitz exhibited her 'Ghost Series' (1994-96) at the Chicago Project Room. Critic Brian K Axel wrote: "Breitz uses white-out to reconstruct the spectacle of racially marked gendered bodies on display in the ethnographic postcard, which would ordinarily circulate in a predominantly white tourist market. Covering up signs of race and gender, but not quite exactly, the 'Ghost Series' foregrounds and acknowledges the violence of whiting-out as a process at social and political levels. The 'Ghost Series' projects a violently non-totalised body, disrupting any possibility for the simple recognition and identification which the aesthetics of national belonging requires."
In September/October 1997, Breitz wallpapered two different spaces with her grids of images from the 'Rorschach Series' (1997) - the Artists' Space in New York, and, as part of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. With this series, Breitz comments wryly on the tendency of the viewer to assume that a photograph simply communicates a predetermined meaning. "She is more than attentive to the fact that what the shrink hopes to elicit - at least in the popular imagination - when he places the little black Rorschach silhouettes before his patient, is the projective transference of sexual fantasies, desires and obsessions ... While the pornographic source-images remain fragmented here, they are overlaid with an urge towards far less specific and recognisable patterns of association. We are presented with symmetrical corpse-like lumps, fleshy bloats, mutant post-human remains, which seem to allude more to science-fiction and genetic engineering (clonings gone astray) than to the pornography from which they are gleaned. In short, it seems that here the subject has vacated its premises entirely, leaving those premises perversely and frighteningly available to the projections of the viewer" (Octavio Zaya).
For her 'My Twin Series' (1997), Breitz ordered a "twin" of herself from a company which works from photographs to supply young girls with dolls in their own image, and then, dressed to match, Breitz took her doll for a "performative walk" through Manhattan. The strangeness of the pair drew few glances from New Yorkers - a comment, perhaps, on what Breitz has called "the Lolita-tisation of the world". The work probes the extent to which identity is increasingly mediated through commodity consumption. At the same time, it reads as a scathing critique of the infantilisation of women, conjuring up the flip-side of the American pastime of entering five-year-old girls into beauty contests, where Lolita-like behavior is encouraged above all else. When the 'My Twin Series' was shown in Munich, the photographs were installed along with the doll (sitting vigilantly in the corner), the brochure, and the dress and ribbon that were worn for the urban performance which is documented by the work.
In a neat twist on usual art market/gallerist/artist relationships, in which the gallery hounds the artist to complete work for an exhibition deadline, in order to sell it on the market, Breitz agreed to have a show in New York's Silverstein Gallery in November 1997 on one condition. The director of the gallery, Daniel Silverstein, would have to make all the paintings for the show. The installation was titled 'Painting by Numbers'. A few months before the show, Breitz presented Silverstein with some brushes, acrylic paints, and colour swatches, along with blank canvases onto which she had traced linear templates of famous brandname logos such as McDonald's, FedEx and Coke. In the months to come, Breitz's involvement was reduced to prodding her dealer on to meet the deadline set by the opening of the exhibition.
In terms of both production and content, 'Painting by Numbers' violates boundaries between artistic signature and corporate logo, between the production of work by the artist and the distribution of work by the art market. Breitz comments: "What 'Painting by Numbers' attempts to challenge is artistic practice which still insists that the value of an art work lies in the expressive traces left by the artist. Given that drips and dribbles and brushstrokes can only ever evoke presence by proxy, they ultimately remain little fetishes. Since Silverstein painted the works from beginning to end, the mark of the artist and the mark of trade literally collapse into each other. This is Painting by Numbers!"
In November 1998, one-person exhibitions of Breitz's work will open in Stockholm on November 14 (Galleri Roger Björkholmen) and Cologne on November 6 (Johnen and Schöttle). In Stockholm, Breitz will exhibit works from the 'Rorschach Series' (1997). A completely new series of work will be exhibited in Cologne for the first time: the 'Surrogate Portrait Series' (1998) is a series of portraits of individuals who have agreed to submit themselves to "universal surrogacy" - that is, to stand in as surrogates for individuals other than themselves. The portraits are part of a larger work which includes a 'Surrogate Archive' and a 'Surrogate Manifesto'.
Candice Breitz is a South African artist and writer who is currently based in New York. Breitz has had one-person exhibitions in Munich (Rüdiger Schöttle Gallery), Los Angeles (Craig Krull Gallery), New York (Silverstein Gallery), Caracas (Sala Mendoza), Chicago (Chicago Project Room) and Johannesburg (Gallery The Space). She has participated in group shows in New York, Graz, Cape Town, Johannesburg, the Canary Islands, Copenhagen and Madrid.
Breitz completed her BA(FA) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) in 1993, and has subsequently received an MA degree from the University of Chicago (1995) and an MPhil degree from Columbia University (1997). Breitz participated in the studio division of the Whitney Museum's Independent Studies Program during 1996-97. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation in the Department of Art History at Columbia University, and is the co-editor (with Brenda Atkinson) of Grey Areas: Representation, Politics and Identity in Contemporary South African Art (forthcoming from Chalkham Hill Press, late 1998).
You can contact Candice Breitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.