76 Grand Street
Collecting baseball cards used to be an essential part of the acculturation of American boys. In Scituate, Massachusetts, however, where Kurt Kauper grew up in the late ‘60s and 1970s, it was hockey cards that were obsessively collected. In the working class suburbs of Boston, people were fervent fans of the Boston Bruins and their charismatic star, Bobby Orr. The hockey cards that Kauper collected as a boy remained in his mind, and eventually became the inspiration for his new series of paintings.
Kauper explained that “images of hockey players are intended to teach boys how to behave like men.” In these new paintings, he confounded conventional expectations by portraying legendary Bruins stars like Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson in the nude. Kauper’s exhibition at Deitch Projects included four larger-than-life size paintings, two with figures in elaborate interiors, and two with isolated figures on monochrome grounds. There were also two smaller tondo paintings, reminiscent of the format of vintage hockey cards. The nude portrayal of the hockey stars had a deliberate destabilizing, almost surreal effect. Kauper liked the conceptual displacement of a burly hockey player with his uniform removed. He was interested in the perceptual slippage from the expectation of brute masculinity to vulnerability and tenderness.
As part of the research behind his hockey player series, Kauper came across a video that documented a once famous series of games between Canadian professional hockey players and Soviet amateurs. The first line of the documentary, “Everybody Knew That Canadians Were The Best Hockey Players,” became the title of Kauper’s exhibition. Because professionals were not allowed to compete in the Olympics, Canada’s best players were not able to play on their Olympic teams. Canadians--who invented ice hockey and considered it to be their national past-time--were humiliated to be defeated in Olympic when they played the Soviet Union’s best players, technically considered amateurs, and it was decided to arrange a series of matches between a team made up of the best Canadian professionals and the Soviet amateurs. The documentary counterposed the well-equipped Canadians against the Soviets with their torn shirts and worn equipment. Against all expectations--as well as the Canadian players’ and press member’s hubristic predications of quick victory--the Soviet amateurs handily defeated the Canadian all stars in the first game, and nearly won the series; they lost the final and deciding game after one of the Canadian professionals intentionally broke the ankle of the Soviet Union’s best player, Valerie Kharlamov. The title had implications of desperation, exhaustion, and cultural enervation and resonated as an analogy of the current state of America. It suggested an illusion of certainty and power that was breaking down.
Kauper liked the idea of making images that stopped a viewer, destabilizing their expectations. He believed that the artificial constructions of representational painting could heighten one’s perception of the world we lived in. His portrayal of hockey players in the nude took the viewer out of their ordinary understanding of reality. Kauper constructed a tight interweaving of personal recollection, childhood obsession, and desire with contemporary reality; in this way, his work embraced and elaborated on the central tenets of Surrealism.
The hockey player series emerged out of personal references and personal history, not out of a conceptual program. The work developed through the painting process, starting with works that directly referenced hockey cards and evolved into paintings that created their own world.
Art historical as well as personal and pop culture references were always an essential part of Kauper’s work. The strangeness of Ingres was an underlying inspiration. The figure of Bobby Orr on a monochrome background was unexpectedly inspired by an unusual George Stubbs equestrian painting, Whistlejacket, of 1762, where the horse was portrayed on a pale green monochrome background. Kauper strove for an intensity of finish, emphasizing finish as a “remove from reality.” He explained that “paintings become less realistic as they become more realistic.”
Everybody Knew That Canadians Were The Best Hockey Players was Kurt Kauper’s first New York solo exhibition since 2000. His more elaborate paintings took one year to complete. The exhibition was accompanied by a portfolio-style book with essays by Wayne Koestenbaum and Pepe Karmel.
Kauper’s work was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial and in Dear Painter at the Centre Pompidou, the Kunsthalle Wien, and the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt in 2002-2003. He was an influential teacher and has been on the faculty of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Yale University. He is currently a Professor at Queens College.
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
18 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
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Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
+1 (212) 343-7300
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