Per Kirkeby @ the Phillips

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2009. oil on canvas, 70 3/4 x 59 inches (courtesy Michael
Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2009. oil on canvas, 70 3/4 x 59 inches (courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York)

Henry McMahon reviews the exhibition Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture at the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., on view through January 6, 2013.

McMahon writes: "If you take a formal element of Kirkeby’s early works and follow it into his mature paintings, which begin in earnest around 1980 and comprise the majority of the Phillips exhibition, you can see how his language develops to address this big theme; that is, how our experience of the world is informed by the complexities of seeing. Let’s take scale, which in the mature works is used to create space by both conventional means (large forms come forward, small forms recede, those that overlap find their relative places as a result), and by unconventional ones (wherein, for instance, a grove of distant trees will be painted on top of a form in the near space). The function of the conventional scale is obvious enough; it creates literal space. To understand the function of the unconventional scale shifts, it’s helpful to have Kirkeby’s early works nearby. Outsized scale, used in works like Regicide to emphasize narrative components (The bird has taken flight! The fox has darted away into the night!), has been repurposed in the mature works to emphasize the narrative of looking."