A Painter in His Studio - to Manet and Vermeer
David Bierk at Odon Wagner Contemporary

Odon Wagner Contemporary is proud of its acquisition and display of A Painter in His Studio - to Manet and Vermeer by one of Canada's foremost artists, the late David Bierk.

David Bierk's pictures are homage to Old Master pictures -- museum art about museum art. They are moral pictures, preserving what nihilists like Marinetti sought to destroy, as though to do so was in and of itself a creative act, the way Rauschenberg's annihilation of a de Kooning drawing is mistakenly regarded as a creative act. Bierk's homages to Old Master pictures -- his giving them refuge in the sanctuary of his picture -- reminds us that all that glitters in avant-garde art is not necessarily gold, and above all that many avant-garde works lack the spirituality that Clement Greenberg foolishly regarded as an after-effect of manipulation of the physical medium rather than as something latent in being that creativity struggled to make materially manifest.

One picture makes the point of Bierk's art succinctly clear: Requiem for a Plantet, Apollo (1994-2001). To say that Bierk is simply quoting two Old Master works of art -- a painting and a sculpture, the former by way of his own hand, the latter by way of a photograph -- in an ironic postmodern manner is to miss the tension generated by their juxtaposition. The works are different in scale, material and theme, adding to the tension. Is it resolved? It seems not: figure stands against landscape, more particularly a classical god against a romantic landscape, and even more particularly an Apollonian figure against a Dionysian landscape (confirmed by the sublime stasis of the former and the gestural intensity of the latter). Both images are embedded in steel -- a rather somber, gray steel, permanently locking them in place, confirming their permanence, and acknowledging that they are symbols of the eternal opposites that shape both life and art.

The work as a whole is tragic and mournful, as its title indicates, but it is also subliminally joyous: the joy of art has replaced the joy of life. Bierk has in effect turned Old Master works of art that are symbols of the divine in human and nature into symbols of the sacredness of art itself. Their insistent, poignant sacredness -- irreducible spirtual character -- is their common ground, the core of their inner relationship, which is what Bierk's own sacred work symbolizes. He has in effect rebaptized old museum masterpieces -- art that seems to have become obsolete, that doesn't speak to our times (even though it speaks to what is deepest in every human being) -- by immobilizing them in the gray waters of the river Styx. Paradoxically, they seem more alive, beautiful, inevitable, and sublime in death -- Bierk never denies that they are dead, as the funereal character of their appearance indicates -- than they ever did in their own passing times. They must die to be reborn as eternal, more particularly, to be re-presented as art and nothing but art rather than as representations of the lifeworld, that makes them more humanly meaningful -- indeed, emotionally resonant and cognitively convincing -- than they ever were when they were first made. 

(with thanks to Artnet.com & author Donald Kuspit - the complete article can be found here)