From Baroque Paintings to Stock Images: Torbjørn Rødland Plays with References

01 MAR 2021

German cars are yesterday’s status symbols. Rejection of the establishment can no longer be expressed as it could in the late 1980s by snapping off a Mercedes-Benz emblem to wear around your neck on a chain. It is peculiar, then, that Norwegian artist Torbjørn Rødland’s current  exhibition, ‘More than Tongue Can Tell’, at Galerie Eva Presenhuber evokes such connotations. Of the 15 photographs on display, one of the most striking is a sexually charged image of a woman taking the Mercedes logo in her mouth (Hood Ornament, 2019), her likeness reflected in the bonnet’s polished surface. Today, in the age of climate strikes and e-mobility, is it still conceivable that a young person would have such strong feelings for a car?

In the press release, Rødland observes: ‘I always look to what painters do, while pushing for photography to constitute equally complex and layered visual expressions of – and statements for – our time.’ The photograph Allegory of Painting no. 2 (2020) hints at similarly titled paintings by baroque artists such as Artemisia Gentileschi or Jan Vermeer. However, in Rødland’s image, a dribbling child in a diaper playing with an easel and paints is presented, tongue-in-cheek, as a suitable allegory. A further take on the medium is offered in Painter Painted (2018–20), which depicts a young boy and a woman in hot pants and crop top repainting a wall. Baroque motifs of becoming and decay recur throughout the exhibition: the belly of a pregnant woman (An Unfinished Hand, 2017–20), candles (Candles and Balloons, 2020), a bouquet of wilted flowers next to a woman’s face (Mysticomimetic, 2019).

Rødland seems to draw inspiration not only from the works of the old masters, but also from surrealist-inflected advertising and stock imagery, hinting at the fact that modern photographic media have long since established their own symbolic and historical frame of reference.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Torbjørn Rødland's ‘More than Tongue Can Tell’ is on view at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, until 13 March 2021.

 Main image: Torbjørn Rødland, Candlestick Pattern no (detail). 2, 2020, chromogenic print on Kodak Endura paper, 82.5 × 107.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/New York