March 21, 2003 - Aeroplastics Contemporary - Ronald Ophuis at AEROPLASTICS contemporary
March 21, 2003

Ronald Ophuis at AEROPLASTICS contemporary

Ronald Ophuis
22/03/2003 - 10/05/2003

AEROPLASTICS contemporary
32 rue Blanche
1060 Brussels
T (32) 2 537 22 02
F (32) 2 537 15 49

Image: Ronald OPHUIS “Latrines, Poland 1944″, 2002, o/c , 350 x 480 cm


The Kiss of War
oil paintings

Director: Jerome Jacobs

second floor: also presenting paintings by David NICHOLSON

Please note that AEROPLASTICS will be presenting both artists at ART BRUSSELS, APRIL 3-8

For the question ‘Can you show everything?’ Ronald OPHUIS (1968)
substitutes another one, ‘Can you put everything in pictures?’
AEROPLASTICS contemporary art gallery is presenting this young Dutch
artist’s recent oil paintings, uncompromising visions of humankind
divided into victims on the one hand and tormentors on the other.

Two men in combat uniforms are playing with a ball in a filthy toilet,
disregarding the man crouching on the ground at their feet and bathed in
a pool of blood. In a cloakroom, three teenagers hold a fourth one down on
the ground and sodomise him with a (large) Coca-Cola bottle. Note that
all of them are wearing the same football team uniform. These works by
Ronald Ophuis are part of a series of paintings done between 1995 and 1997 and
exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam in 1999 under the
title ‘Five paintings about violence’. They won the artist rapid
fame in the country of Vermeer, especially when he went to court to oppose the
state’s demand that a child abuse scene (‘Sweet violence’) be
withdrawn from a public exhibition – and won his case !

The court thus did not go along with the opinion of the visitors who had
equated this atrocious picture with child pornography, but it is not
certain that such a ruling would have been handed down everywhere.
Wasn’t Sally Mann, in those distant times, accused of paedophilia for her
photographs of her naked daughters and son ? In Ophuis’ work, choosing
children reflects the will to express violence using an uncompromising
vocabulary that leaves no doubt as to his intentions. For the message
can prove more ambiguous, as in the scene of a young girl in her bathing
suit who is lying at the water’s edge and masturbating a naked boy in a
gesture that we suspect – without being certain – is forced upon her. Or then
again the collective shower, with three men who are coating their
penises with liquid soap, most likely not just to wash, but nothing tells us if
everyone has agreed to take part in what will follow.

These few works enable us to pin down Ronald Ophuis’ very
characteristic style. His aggressive staging and rooting of several of his themes in
contemporary history (World War II, Rwanda, Chechnya, etc.) recall
Marcus Lüpertz, Jorg Immendorf and Anselm Kiefer. The very large canvases
show life-sized figures, even if in the child rape scene the little
girl’s abnormally small size underscores her total lack of defence against her
assailant. And it is indeed a staging, in the strict sense of the word,
that we have before us, for the artist had actors mime for him the
situations that he was going to paint. Moreover, these documents are
exhibited at Aeroplastics in an amazing confrontation between the
photographs and their re-presentations. The approach recalls that of
Rodin, who was accused of having moulded his ‘Saint-John the
Baptist’ on a live body and who proved, studio photos in hand, that he worked from a
model. While Rodin’s detractors got satisfaction, the viewer
standing in front of Ronald Ophuis’ paintings will doubtless appreciate that
they were not painted from photographs of actual events. But to what extent are
the scenes that they portray actually imaginary? It would be mistaken to
compare them to the images of daily violence that a certain branch of
the press delights in disseminating. Such pictures, when they exist, luckily
if we dare say so are more likely to find themselves in the category of
exhibits for the prosecution. Just think of the pictures that the juries
and audiences of trials such as the trials of the perpetrators of the
Rwandan genocide were subjected to.

There are, however, some sadly famous exceptions that allow the public
to be confronted with images of the type that Ronald Ophuis merely invents,
such as those taken of the ‘Rape of Nanking’, when the
Japanese massacred thousands of Chinese civilians upon taking the city in 1937. With just a
few exceptions (a film shot by a witness at the risk of losing his own
life), the soldiers themselves took the photographs as souvenirs of the
nameless savagery that they unleashed on the population of women,
children, and old people. It is significant to note that the painter
prefers to create his own idea of violence from scratch. A more recent
series concerning the Nazi concentration camps poses the question of
staged pictures more keenly. For while, following the example of the
Nanking pictures, we are aware of the countless pictures taken by the
tormentors at Auschwitz and Birkenau, none of them show what Ophuis
chose to depict, namely, prisoners in the grip of dysentery or prisoners
committing a rape on a barrack’s floor in Birkenau, as if trying
to surpass their jailers.

In contrast, the suicide of Mala Zimetbaum, who is shown lying down
against an immaculate backdrop, her gaze turned heavenwards, takes on
the trappings of redemption. The paintings of Vann Nath, one of the few
survivors of the Khmer Rouge prison of Tuol Sleng, are striking because
of the contrast between their quasi-naïve style and the intolerable
violence to which they attest. But that is just it. The painter is a witness – a
position that Ophuis, in his quest for more dizzying heights of horror, rejects.

Pierre-Yves Desaive,

Brussels, March 2003

catalogue available: Ronald OPHUIS “One to One”

With gracious thanks to The MONDRIAN FOUNDATION for their support.

Aeroplastics Contemporary
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