Waarom een schilderij werkt

boek cover Waarom een schilderij werkt

In dit boek wordt het werk van tientallen hedendaagse schilders voorgesteld. Daarbij komt steeds de vraag aan de orde: Waarom werkt dit schilderij? Op wat voor manier heeft het betekenis en kan het overtuigen? Het zijn vragen die onder meer voortkomen uit de behoefte om te kunnen navigeren in het veelvormige landschap van de schilderkunst van nu, waarin verschillende stijlen en houdingen naast en door elkaar bestaan.

Enerzijds lijkt tegenwoordig alles te kunnen, en is het aanbod van kunst groot, maar anderzijds vindt niemand echt dat alles kan. Bij kunst horen noties over wat top is en talent, over wat progressief is, kritisch of ter zake, of wat aan kracht verloren heeft. Daarbij heerst in de kunst, net als in andere domeinen, een strijd om aandacht; velen willen gezien wor- den of iets tonen, en zowel kunsteigene als afgeleide motieven spelen daarbij een rol.

Waarom een schilderij werkt gaat, behalve over de vraag hoe we naar schilderijen kijken en hoe ze werken, over de vraag hoe we over kunst schrijven en spreken. Wil taal over kunst iets betekenen, dan moet ze ermee in evenwicht zijn, niet topzwaar of overdreven, maar passend bij de kunst die aan de orde komt. Er zijn zichtbare aspecten die kunnen worden aangekaart, zoals het beeldmotief, de compositie, het kleurgebruik en de manier waarop de verf wordt aangebracht. Maar er zijn ook onzichtbare factoren: de drijfveren, het wereldbeeld, de herkomst of de visie van de kunstenaar. In dit boek worden deze aspecten onderzocht en met elkaar in verband gebracht. Het gaat om wat je ziet in schilderijen, maar ook om de houding en de ideeën die erachter liggen.

Het boek gaat in op het werk van Rezi van Lankveld, Louise Bonnet, Peter Doig, Helmut Federle, Beverly Fishman, Daniel Richer, Victoria Gitman, Martha Jungwirth, Andreas Ragnar Kassapis, Kerry James Marshall, Lara de Moor (coverbeeld), Marc Mulders, Kaido Ole, Paula Rego, Jessica Stockholder, Anna Tuori, Matthias Weischer en vele anderen.

Waarom een schilderij werkt is verschenen bij uitgeverij van Oorschot Het boek kost 25 euro en is verkrijgbaar in Nederlandse en Vlaamse boekwinkels, bijvoorbeeld bij Copyright in Gent, Boekhandel Robert Premsela in Amsterdam, Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, Kunstmuseum Den Haag en Broese in Utrecht. Het kan ook hier via deze website besteld worden.

CAHH opens in Valencia

Mat Collishaw in Valencia

Should there ever be the need for an artist who can envision the apocalypse, Mat Collishaw would probably be the right man to call. This thought came up after I saw some of his work in Valencia, in the newly opened Centro de Arte Hortensia Herrero (CAHH), a private collection gone public, with an impressive list of artists, both Spanish and international. Collishaw is one of a handful who were invited to develop a site-specific work that would find a home in the renovated seventeenth-century Palazzo Valeriola in the center of town. In his work, there is often a sense of danger, be it violence, cruelty, or simply decay. But he presents his work in such a monumental and ingenious way that you cannot help looking. Like staring into a fire.

The CAHH was founded by Hortensia Herrero, a collector who, with her husband, Juan Roig, largely owns one of Spain’s supermarket chains. The headquarters of the company are close to Valencia, which is the reason the city is the focus of the cultural and entrepreneurial endeavors of the family. Not tax money, but grocery money coming back to the people.

Of the invited artists, Collishaw is probably the one who engaged most with the city, its tradition, and its history. For his Transformer (2023), he was inspired by the Fallas, Valencia’s yearly spring festivities accompanied by grand fireworks as well as the burnings of giant wooden ninots. These figures or characters are artfully built and carried in processions, after which they are burned. The fire stands for renewal, getting rid of (hated) figures; it is a centuries-old rite of spring. While in other cities, people might panic when they hear explosions, in Valencia nobody would believe it is war or an attack. It is just fireworks.


Read the full review online in the Brooklyn Rail, first published in Feb. 2024

Lia Kazakou in Thessaloniki

Lia Kazakou, Untitled, 2024, detail

It has been eight years since Lia Kazakou presented a solo exhibition in her hometown of Thessaloniki. While her choice of motifs has largely remained the same – fragments of clothing, the front view of a dress, a single sleeve, the folds around a zipper – something has changed in the way she portrays them, imbuing the motifs with greater ambiguity. This development can be seen in the current exhibition titled Μύχια Ύλη, which could be translated as Innermost Matter. 

In a large work at the entrance (all works Untitled, 2023-24), a range of greens, from shiny pale to matte dark, coexist within a single canvas depicting a coat with a waistband, slightly opened. In a smaller work, a deep blue with dark shadows, light creating the impression of a film fragment. The fabric in the 15 paintings in the show is opulent, rich texture depicted in detail, with folds and the interplay of light and shadow. As the clothing is often portrayed close up, the viewer is denied the full picture or the appearance of the figure wearing the garment, with only a strip of skin hinting at their presence.

Throughout the exhibition, the motifs easily transition from their figurative origins into abstraction, from identifiable objects into patterns of parallel lines or gradations of colors. What initially seems like soft fabric may simultaneously evoke the touch of harder materials such as bone, wood, or metal. This material flexibility appears to stem from Kazakou’s increased freedom and confidence in handling her subject matter. Over the years, her motifs have gained intensity in color, accompanied by a heightened sense of plasticity. The motifs appear not just as garments, but as matter with an essence.

Innermost Matter is on view till 11 May, 2024 at Donopoulos IFA , 3 Agias Theodoras in Thessaloniki. The image shows a detail of Untitled, 2024, oil on linen, 110 x 70 cm.

Podcast Helmut Middendorf

exhibition helmut middendorf keteleer 24

On the occasion of his exhibition in Belgium, I visited Helmut Middendorf in his studio in Athens. You can listen to the conversation, recorded for Glean magazine, on Spotify and Apple podcast channels.

That was then. This is now, is the title of the exhibition at Keteleer Gallery, showing different phases of Middendorfs artistic production. In the podcast, we discuss the works that he made in Berlin in the 1980’s, being part of the music scene in Kreuzberg, as well as recent works that he made in his studio in Athens. Does the city influence his work? How did the digital era enter the work of the painter?

The exhibition at Keteleer in Antwerp is on view till 27 april, 2024.

Book ‘Why Paintings Work’

Why Paintings Work book cover

In ‘Why Paintings Work’ Jurriaan Benschop navigates the diverse landscape of contemporary painting. He introduces the work of dozens of painters and asks: Why do these paintings work? In what ways do they speak to the viewer? He considers both the visible aspects of painting, such as the depicted motif and the application of paint, and the concepts, beliefs and motivations that underlie the canvas.

‘Why Paintings Work’ is not just about how we look at paintings, but also about finding a language that suits the art and viewing experience of today. Throughout the book different themes come up, while looking at the work of contemporary painters, such as nature, the body, touch, movement, identity, memory and spirituality.

Among the artists featured in this book are: Nikos Aslanidis, David Benforado, Louise Bonnet, Glenn Brown, Maria Capelo, Peter Doig, Béatrice Dreux, Helmut Federle, Beverly Fishman, Elisabeth Frieberg, Victoria Gitman, Veronika Hilger, Martha Jungwirth, Andreas Ragnar Kassapis, Kristi Kongi, Mark Lammert, Rezi van Lankveld, Michael Markwick, Kerry James Marshall, Lara de Moor, Matthew Metzger, Marc Mulders, Kaido Ole, Jorge Queiroz, Fiona Rae, Daniel Richter, Jessica Stockholder, Marc Trujillo, Anna Tuori, Matthias Weischer, Paula Zarina-Zemane and Gerlind Zeilner.

The book contains 284 pages with more than 100 illustrations in color, paperback 14 x 20 cm, in English. Published May 2023 by Garret Publications, Helsinki. Bookshops order through Idea books in Amsterdam *** ISBN 9789527222171 *** Individuals can ORDER A COPY through this website by filling out the order form HERE Delivery time in Europe is about one week, outside Europe two weeks approximately.

In these shops or institutions the book is already available:

E U R O P E Athens: Booktique; Hyper Hypo, Alyki, Paros: Cycladic Arts, Amsterdam: The American Book Center, Stedelijk Museum, Utrecht: Broese, Bath, UK: Magalleria, Berlin: Do You Read Me?, Uslar & Rai, Helsinki: Suomalainen; Prisma, London: Art Data, Münster: Extrabuch, Riga: Zuzeum, Stockholm, Göteborg: Adlibris, Vienna: Giese und Schweiger,

U S A Houston, TX: Basket Books, Boston, MA: ICA Store, Los Angeles: Stories, Ooga Booga, Santa Barbara: Chaucers Books.

Worldwide online order through Walter König (Germany, Austria), Art Data (United Kingdom) or through the website you are currently visiting.


Edition Lara de Moor

In 2023 Lara de Moor produced a special edition, based on an earlier painting she had made: ‘Spiller.’ The edition was first presented at the group exhibition Wo man sich trifft at the Emsdettener Kunstverein in Germany. The print is for sale through this website.

The edition is a fine art (piezo) print on Hahnemühle paper. Each sheet has been individually treated with black ink. As a consequence, in each print the dripping paint ‘enters the room’ in a different way, making it a unique art work.

The price of one print is 500 euro (shipping costs excluded). Pick up without shipping costs can be arranged in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin and Athens.

‘Spiller’ (2020) was used as the cover image for the Dutch edition of Why Paintings Work (Waarom een schilderij werkt). The work of De Moor is featured in this book among the work of circa 40 other contemporary painters. For further information, send us an e-mail: info (at) jurriaanbenschop (dot) com. You can order the edition through the contact page on this website

Spiller (2023), black ink on fine art print on Hahnemüller paper, 29,7 x 42 cm each, edition of 60 + AP, signed and numbered.

Where We Meet

Exhibition view 'Wo man sich trifft' international painting show at the Emsdettener Kunstverein

Starting from the conception of a painting as a place to meet, different approaches can be observed in this international group exhibition. The show looks into the various ways that contemporary painters stage encounters, be it imaginary or with an abstract other. While some of the works guide the spectator’s imagination by delivering a figurative scene or by creating an interior with meaningful objects, others retreat into an exclusive, painterly world, where forms seem to float freely, or where there is no clear sense of perspective but merely the immediate impact of color, surface, and shape instead. The different ways the artists create and handle pictorial space is an extension of their conceptions of what a painting should be or present, and how it anticipates the presence of the other.

Participating artists: Matthias Weischer, Lara de Moor, Rezi van Lankveld, Kiki Kolympari, David Benforado, Erwin Bohatsch, and Caitlin Lonegan. 3 Sept- 15 Oct, 2023 at the Emsdettener Kunstverein, Emsdetten, Germany.

What we Learn from Land and Sea

What We Learn from Land and Sea, view of exhibition at Paros, Cycladic Arts

On 5 August, 2023 the exhibition What We Learn from Land and Sea has opened at Cycladic Arts, an artist-run residency and exhibition space on the Greek island of Paros. The question of balancing forces, and the right ‘measure,’ connects the works of the five artists from different backgrounds. The starting point is a journal entry from the Aegean Notebooks of poet and essayist Zissimos Lorenzatos (1915-2004):

“The sky, earth and sea of Greece only allow you a limited number of things to believe, build, sketch, live or speak. The smallest wrong movement and everything can fall into the abyss. Sometimes its inhabitants have known this and have believed, built, sketched, lived (and spoken) accordingly. At other times they have missed the mark and tried to do other things which neither the sky nor the earth nor the sea in this country allow you to do. Things that the country won’t take, as they say.”

In his Notebooks, Lorenzatos recounted his trips over the Aegean Sea in the 1970s and 1980s, visiting many of the Cycladic Islands by sailboat. Daily observations about weather conditions, places, and people he met merge with philosophical reflections on language, agriculture, technology, progress, and how to live “the good life.” Lorenzatos was inspired by what can be learned from land and sea. He believed that the spirit and setting of a place offers a set of natural limitations. People who build and create should not ignore these measures, but be instructed and inspired by the environment. Lorenzatos’s writings can be read as an ode to the Aegean, as an early wake-up call concerning climate, and also as a reminder of existing knowledge. The right measures in life do not need to be invented. They are already available but need to be remembered, observed, and put into practice.

The artists in this group exhibition do not make loud statements. What they think, feel, or strive for is absorbed, reflected, and transformed in their work. It comes in the shape of archetypal figures, in bands of colors taken from houses or skies, in stony landscapes, in stories of origin, and in the act of existential balance. The exhibition presents artworks that speak about measures, boundaries, and relationships through the grace of form.

Participating artists: Nikos Aslanidis, Béatrice Dreux, Kati Roover, Sean Scully, Maria Spyraki, curated by Jurriaan Benschop for Cycladic Arts, an initiative of Dimitra Skandali. Exhibition 5 August- 30 September, 2023. Visiting hours daily 7.30 – 10 pm (except Tuesday). Image: installation view with works by Maria Spyraki (left, center) and Béatrice Dreux (right).

Book launch & exhibition in Athens

opening and book launch Why Paintings Work in Athens

On July 12 the book Why Paintings Work was presented at Kourd Gallery in Athens. The gallery shows currently work of 8 artists who are featured in the book. There are different threads running through the show, connecting some of the works, and putting them into a dialogue. For instance Michael Markwick and David Benforado share an interest in nature and materiality, yet without presenting straightforward images of nature. Paula Zarina-Zemane and Maria Capelo both stay close to the moment of conception, when some kind of recognizable forms starts to appear on the surface of the work. In their processes a compositional idea is present, yet there is as much attention for accident and the intuition of the painter’s hand at work. Walking through the exhibition, further connections can be discovered. The participating artists are Nikos Aslanidis, David Benforado, Maria Capelo, Béatrice Dreux, Andreas Ragnar Kassapis, Michael Markwick, Paula Zarina-Zemane, Gerlind Zeilner. In the book around 30 additional artists are featured.

Until 6 August Kourd gallery is open during weekdays (Mon-Friday, 12-8 pm) at Kassianis 4 in Athens. From 7 August it will be closed for holidays. Late August and early September the show can be visited by appointment. Further announcements will be made.

Spring Tour USA

In Spring 2023 I visit several Midwest universities for a talk about my book Why Paintings Work. The tour starts in Aiken (South Carolina), and then goes to Bloomington (Indiana), Chicago (Illinois), Fayetteville (Arkansas) and Lyon College (Arkansas). Most visits consists of a public lecture and studio visits at the department of visual arts.

Why Paintings Work navigates the stylistically diverse landscape of contemporary painting. In the book, the author introduces the work of dozens of painters, discussing the themes, techniques, and sensibilities that can be found in their art. He continually returns to the question: Why does this painting work? In what ways does it speak to the viewer? He considers both the visible aspects of a painting, such as the depicted motif and the application of paint, as well as the concepts, beliefs, and motivations that lie behind the canvas. Why Paintings Work is not just about the mechanics of looking at works of art, but also about finding a language that suits the paintings and the experiences of the present day.

Why Paintings Work is published by Garret Publications (Helsinki). Public lectures are scheduled at USC Aiken (30 March), IU BLoomington (6 April, Painting annex), University of Chicago (10 April, Logan Center) and Fayetville (20 April, UARK Fine Arts Building).