76 Grand Street
Kurt Kauper’s Diva Fictions were paintings of imaginary Opera Divas. Kauper used the vernacular of painterly realism to create an entirely invented, or artificial person: a person who had never existed but appeared to have a personal history as real and verifiable as that of the viewer looking at the painting. The exhibition featured the four most recent paintings in Kauper’s series of fourteen Diva Fictions. The series was a visual record of an invented history. Kauper described his Diva Fictions as occupying a place somewhere between realism and artificiality. It was in this ambiguous territory that their symbolic power was most resonant.
The Divas were constructed from a variety of sources and used a wide range of both real and imaginary references. The references and sources included photographs and drawings of actual people (always highly altered,) drawings done from memory and imagination, and the voice and comportment of historical Divas. Kauper did not refer to the Diva Fictions as portraits because the word portrait implied a psychological or physical likeness of someone who actually existed. The word painting, on the other hand, immediately signaled artificiality. Kauper employed an astonishingly realistic technique to paint dazzlingly artificial characters.
Kauper was like a novelist in his ability to create characters who had a presence as large and as “real” as anyone living. His figures had outsized personalities and implied histories. The viewer was as absorbed by them as by a “real” Diva on a stage. Kauper was fascinated by the way that the Opera Diva constructed a prominent and celebrated persona within a traditional world in which she would, if it were not for the quality of her voice, be a marginalized outsider: both as a woman within the patriarchal repertoire of opera and as an individual from a social strata different from that of the opera’s season ticket holders.
“I love the Diva’s bearing,” Kauper says, “her glamorous condescension, studied postures and cultivation of brilliant fashion. I love that these postures are evidence of her success in conquering an elite world. I love that in a world where persona is presented as given and natural, the Opera Diva celebrates persona as a highly artificial construct. I hope that my imaginary Divas’ embodiment of these traits suggests to the viewer themes of reinvention – the construction of a new and vital artistic identity – out of tradition: a process I am constantly aware of both as a painter and a social being.”
The Diva Fictions was a blending of the traditions of Western Opera and painting. Both forms were often considered irrelevant to contemporary cultural concerns and incapable of adequately representing the texture of contemporary experience. Painting because of its fixed imagery – at odds with the lightning fast abundance of imagery with which we are surrounded – and Opera because of its excessive theatricality, simplistic stories, and overt emotionalism. The Diva Fictions celebrated these highly artificial modes of communication, and suggested that there were metaphors for a wide range of contemporary cultural realities.
Kurt Kauper was born in Indianapolis in 1966. He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his family. He received an M.F.A. from UCLA in 1995. He joined the painting faculty at Yale University in the fall of 2000. His work was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial Exhibition. This was his first solo exhibition in New York.
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
18 Wooster Street
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
10 AM – 6 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
The gallery reopens with People in April 2018.
+1 (212) 343-7300
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