Press about ‘Why Paintings Work’

Why Paintings Work in English and Dutch

“He practices an ’embedded’ art criticism,” Daniel Rovers wrote in De Witte Raaf about Why Paintings Work. “He (Benschop) did the same in his previous book, Salt in the wound. Artists in Europe. (2016), but then he covered multiple visual genres. The restriction to painting pays off this time.” Below you find excerpts from De Witte Raaf and other book reviews of Why Paintings Work. The fragments are translated into English. To read the original texts in Dutch, scroll down.

Daniël Rovers, “Why a Painting Works,” pulished in De Witte Raaf, Nov-Dec 2023:

“Benschop simply wants to facilitate a conversation about contemporary painting, especially in a time when, formally speaking, almost anything seems possible, while, morally, strict norms are sometimes imposed on the question of who can depict what. He does this in a language that, as he writes himself, is ‘not top-heavy or exaggerated,’ but ‘suitable for the art at hand.'”

“No one claimed at the entrance of the museum that everything about an artwork should be clear just by looking, he dryly states in his introduction. In that one sentence, the style and attitude of the author are encapsulated. Here is a modest, attentive enthusiast who listens well, especially to artists, and much less to critics or art historians. There is understatement in his sentences, which are clear and self-explanatory, rarely extending beyond what the content allows.”

Why Painting Works is lucid and concrete, yet also conceptual in nature. It presents an unforeseen, unimaginable series of perspectives, techniques, and approaches, of which, as a reader, contrary to what the title suggests, you do not know if they work, because you only see the color images on the pages, something entirely different from three-dimensional canvases. Benschop succeeds in arousing the desire to see them in real life. In that sense, this book, of which an English version has been published by Garret Publications, is a catalog – three hundred pages of text and about seventy images – of a future exhibition, should a museum director grant him the favor of the necessary galleries.”


Maarten Buser, ‘Tastend kijken en dan terugpraten’ in literary magazine Liter, December 5, 2022. Review in the form of an open letter:

“Anyone expecting a specific (viewing) method based on the title ‘Why Painting Works’ will be disappointed. That operation – the ‘mechanism’ by which the painting convinces and makes you want to keep looking – varies per chapter. For example, when Kaido Ole, in a comic-like manner, opposes overly expressive painting, his art works differently than that of Beverly Fishman, who, with the visual language of minimalist abstraction, says something essential about marketing and the pharmaceutical industry. Each artist must be approached differently, and even after a sharp formal analysis, there may be enough uncertainty in the interpretation. In all those attempts, you seem to be as much a mechanic as a mystic.”

“Even when words may fall short to capture something that is better expressed in an image, they can guide your gaze. In that sense, writing – or more broadly, speaking – can help to get a better grip on art without completely dispelling the mystery. Why Painting Works is a skillful demonstration of this.”


Karel Alleene, ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt,’ on Cutting Edge (online), December 20, 2022:

“Jurriaan Benschop (1963) writes relatively concise essay collections about art. Similar authors are Bernard Dewulf, Roland Jooris, or Hans den Hartog Jager. Writers who, averse to quick sentiments, embark on a quest to provide personal meaning to a painting. In doing so, they steer clear of aesthetic terms that often transform art essays into enigmatic texts.”

Benschop’s pointed and pertinent writing style ensures that you frequently underline sentences with a pencil. Because you know that this is the kind of book you will refer to frequently. We place ‘Why Paintings Work’ alongside Bernard Dewulf’s Bijlichtingen (2001) and Roland Jooris’ Geschilderd of geschreven (1992). Small essay collections that make the reader eager to view the described works in a museum.”


You can order the book in your local art book store or through this website by filling out the order form HERE Delivery time in Europe is about one week, outside Europe two weeks approximately.


T E X T S in D U T C H

Daniël Rovers, “Waarom een schilderij werkt,” in De Witte Raaf, Nov-Dec 2023.

“Benschop wil simpelweg een gesprek over hedendaagse schilderkunst mogelijk maken, juist in een tijd waarin formeel gezien zo goed als alles mogelijk lijkt, terwijl in moreel opzicht – de vraag wie wat mag afbeelden – soms strenge normen worden opgelegd. Dat doet hij in een taal die, zoals hij zelf schrijft, ‘niet topzwaar of overdreven’ is, ‘maar passend bij de kunst die aan de orde komt’.”

“‘Hier is een bescheiden, attente liefhebber aan het woord, die goed luistert, vooral naar kunstenaars, en veel minder naar critici of kunsthistorici. Er zit understatement in zijn zinnen, die helder zijn en voor zich spreken, en zich zelden breder maken dan de inhoud toelaat.”

“Hij bedrijft een ‘ingebedde’ kunstkritiek. Dat deed hij ook in zijn vorige boek, Zout in de wond. Kunstenaars in Europa (2016), maar toen bestreek hij meerdere beeldende genres. De beperking tot de schilderkunst werpt dit keer haar vruchten af.”

“Waarom een schilderij werkt is lucide en concreet, en toch ook conceptueel van aard. Het presenteert een onvoorziene, onvoorstelbare reeks van invalshoeken, technieken en benaderingen, waarvan je als lezer – wat de titel ook mag beweren – nu juist níét weet of ze werken, omdat je op de pagina’s slechts de kleurenafbeeldingen ziet, wat iets volkomen anders is dan driedimensionale doeken. Benschop slaagt erin het verlangen te wekken ze in het echt te willen zien. In die zin is dit boek, waarvan een Engelstalige versie door Garret Publications is uitgegeven, een catalogus – driehonderd pagina’s tekst en een zeventigtal afbeeldingen – van een toekomstige tentoonstelling, mocht een hem genegen museumdirecteur de tentoonstellingsmaker de nodige zalen gunnen.”


Maarten Buser ‘Tastend kijken en dan terugpraten’ in literatir tijdschrift Liter, 5 december 2022. Recensie in de vorm van een open brief

“Wie op basis van de titel Waarom een schilderij werkt een bepaalde (kijk)methode verwacht, komt bedrogen uit. Die werking – het ‘mechanisme’ waardoor het schilderij overtuigt en waardoor je ernaar wil blijven kijken – verschilt per hoofdstuk. Wanneer bijvoorbeeld Kaido Ole zich op het stripachtige afzet tegen al te expressieve schilderkunst, werkt zijn kunst immers anders dan die van Beverly Fishman, die met de beeldtaal van minimalistische abstractie iets wezenlijks zegt over marketing en de medicijnindustrie. Elke kunstenaar moet op een andere manier benaderd worden en zelfs na een scherpe formele analyse kan er genoeg onzeker blijken in de interpretatie. U lijkt me in al die pogingen evenzeer een monteur als een mysticus.”

“Ook als woorden tekort kunnen schieten om iets te vangen dat beter in beeld uitgedrukt kan worden, kunnen ze je blik bijsturen. In die zin kan het schrijven – of breder: het spreken – helpen om toch wat meer grip te krijgen op kunst, zonder het mysterie geheel te laten verdwijnen. Waarom een schilderij werkt is daar een knappe demonstratie van.”Ook als woorden tekort kunnen schieten om iets te vangen dat beter in beeld uitgedrukt kan worden, kunnen ze je blik bijsturen. In die zin kan het schrijven – of breder: het spreken – helpen om toch wat meer grip te krijgen op kunst, zonder het mysterie geheel te laten verdwijnen. Waarom een schilderij werkt is daar een knappe demonstratie van.”


Karel Alleene, ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt,’ gepubliceerd op Cutting Edge (online), December 20, 2022:

“Jurriaan Benschop (1963) schrijft relatief beknopte essaybundels over kunst. Soortgenoten zijn Bernard Dewulf, Roland Jooris of Hans den Hartog Jager. Schrijvers die wars van snelle sentimenten een zoektocht aanvatten om een persoonlijke betekenis te verschaffen aan een schilderij. Daarbij blijven ze weg van esthetische termen die geregeld kunstessays transformeren in enigmatische teksten.”

“Benschops puntige en pertinente schrijfstijl zorgt ervoor dat je veelvuldig zinnen aanstreept met potlood. Omdat je weet dat dit het soort boek is waar je veelvuldig naar terug zal grijpen. We plaatsen ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt’ naast Bernard Dewulfs ‘Bijlichtingen’ (’01) en Roland Jooris’ ‘Geschilderd of geschreven’ (’92). Kleine essaybundels die de lezer zin doen krijgen de beschreven werken te bekijken in een museum.”


Waarom een schilderij werkt kan in elke Nederlandse of Vlaamse boekhandel besteld worden. Wilt u het boek via de post ontvangen, dan kunt u ook via deze website bestellen op deze pagina.

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.

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, Santa Barbara: Chaucers Books.

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

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Wo man sich trifft

Exhibition Wo man sich trifft in Emsdetten

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. Finissage on Oct 15th at 4 pm.

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.

Waarom een schilderij werkt

boek cover Waarom een schilderij werkt

Waarom een schilderij werkt onderzoekt de veelvormige schilderkunst van onze huidige tijd. In het boek introduceert de auteur het werk van tientallen schilders, bespreekt de thema’s die in het werk te vinden zijn en stelt daarbij steeds de vraag: Waarom werkt dit schilderij? Op wat voor manier heeft het betekenis en kan het overtuigen? Dit brengt hem bij zowel zichtbare aspecten van schilderkunst, zoals beeldmotief en de manier van schilderen, als bij wat onzichtbaar achter het doek ligt: de drijfveren, het wereldbeeld en de culturele achtergrond van de kunstenaar.

Waarom een schilderij werkt gaat, behalve over de vraag hoe we naar schilderkunst kijken, ook over de vraag hoe we over kunst spreken en schrijven. Wil taal over een kunstwerk iets betekenen, dan moet ze ermee in evenwicht zijn, niet topzwaar of overdreven, maar passend bij wat in het kunstwerk aan de orde komt.

Het boek gaat in op het werk van Louise Bonnet, Peter Doig, Helmut Federle, Beverly Fishman, Victoria Gitman, Martha Jungwirth, Andreas Ragnar Kassapis, Rezi van Lankveld, Kerry James Marshall, Lara de Moor (coverbeeld), Marc Mulders, Kaido Ole, Paula Rego, Jessica Stockholder, Daniel Richter, 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 Antwerpen en Gent, Boekhandel Robert Premsela in Amsterdam en Broese in Utrecht. Het kan ook hier via deze website besteld worden.

Marc Trujillo at West (+video)

Marc Trujillo painting

Los Angeles based painter Marc Trujillo shows recent works in the exhibition ‘8810 Tampa Avenue’ at West in The Hague (The Netherlands). Curator Jurriaan Benschop spoke with the artist at the opening (on May 7th 2023), about what makes a painting work, Trujillo’s relation to old Dutch Masters, and how to deal with desire in a painting.

Living and working in Los Angeles, the artist takes stock of everyday American life by portraying precise details of shopping malls, fast food restaurants and consumer goods. The paintings are small and compact, in contrast to the physical and existential space taken up by consumer architecture in the American landscape. For Trujillo, painting is a way to pay attention to places that are not meant to be looked at for a longer time. He remarks, ‘I look for the precise expression of mixed feelings.’ According to him, a painting is successful and most potent when it comprises the necessary degree of ambivalence. What is visually appealing and fascinating can at the same time generate uncomfortable thoughts on globalization, sustainability and the emptiness behind the facades of material prosperity.

Trujillo is one of more than 40 artists featured in the book ‘Waarom een schilderij werkt’ (Why Paintings Work), by Jurriaan Benschop. The book is available during exhibition hours at West , The Hague, Wed-Sun 12-18h. The exhibition is on view till 27 August, 2023.

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).

Martha Jungwirth in Düsseldorf

exhibition Martha Jungwirth at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Martha Jungwirth lives in Vienna but part of the year she spend on the Cycladic Islands in Greece, such as Paros or Serifos. Impressions of the landscape, the architecture, the vegetation end up in her watercolors, which form the basis of both small and large scale paintings. A survey of Jungwirth’s work was presented in 2022 at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, including some works of the series Paros.

For the book that accompanies the exhibition I wrote an essay about Jungwirth’s approach to painting, about her love for Vladimir Nabokov and about her interest in the immediate, pre-verbal working of paintings.

You find a more detailed description of the book here