David Breuer-Weil - Anorexic Babes


Breuer-Weil’s Anorexic Babes are monumental icons of the age of the Supermodel. They are enthrallingly ambiguous works. On the one hand they are magnificent images of feminine eroticism (albeit of the darker variety) and on the other they are a biting critique of contemporary life, of the kind of role models forced upon young women by fashion, the insistence on certain kinds of figure, and the related tragedies of eating disorders, drug addiction and self destructive urges that derive from feelings of low self-worth often fostered by aspects of modern society.

Breuer-Weil’s paintings also help to expose the seedier aspects of the sex industry, its abuse of women, as can be seen in powerful works such as Slave and Tiny Lover. But of course Breuer-Weil’s biting critique of a Western liberalism that seems to tolerate such abuses would not be so sharp if we were not also attracted. Both attracted and repelled.

If you think of the great nudes in 20th century art, the list is actually surprisingly small. Modigliani, Pascin, Picasso (Marie-Therese in the 1930s and Dora Maar in the 1940s), Klimt, Schiele, Kirchner, Avigdor Arikha, Phillip Pearlstein, Lucian Freud and, more recently, John Currin and Jenny Saville. Breuer-Weil’s magnificent creatures encapsulating a peculiarly potent mixture of modern ecstasy and pain can certainly be added to that list, and are amongst the most exciting figurative paintings executed in a generation. Indeed amongst the generation of young British artists who emerged in the 1990s, Breuer-Weil is, with Saville, one of very few artists to paint true figural representations in the traditional medium of oil on canvas. If Saville explores the aesthetics of obesity, like Freud before her, Breuer-Weil goes to the opposite extreme, painting gaunt, over-thin women, women who may be starving them.

“Men are diminished when they view women in this way. It is a constant threat to both sexes.” There are not only images of women but several of men in this series. These are extremely small canvases, some no more than four of five centimeters in height. It is tempting to read these as a metaphorical allusion to the way in which men might be diminished in stature by negative or abusive treatment of women. In the triptych above there is nothing explicit. All the viewer sees is an anonymous, even shadowy presence of a male photographer behind a lens. These are contemporary images of voyeurism, and are extremely iconic images of modernity, despite or because of their small scale. They capsulate the age of the paparazzi perhaps better than any other contemporary paintings.

In three related tiny triptychs there are images of men viewing brightly lit screens at night. The allusions are subtle but clear. Many people today live virtual lives. Even sexuality is as often as not a virtual rather than a physical experience. This is reflected is all the paintings in this exhibition, where the women are often forced into role models. The paintings of people watching screens also contain intelligent art-historical allusions, in particular images of the Annunciation. In these paintings, however, the spiritual moment is not a supernatural exchange with an angel (as in medieval and Renaissance images of the Annunciation), but the magical and mesmerizing presence of the screen that can fulfill every fantasy.


Ben Hanly, London, December, 2007

Ben Hanly is a London based contemporary art curator and expert with a special knowledge of British and Russian Contemporary art. He is the Contemporary art expert for Lyon and Turnbull auctioneers, and has curated such seminal shows as Moscow Breakthrough and Breuer-Weil's Projects 1-3. He trained at the Courtauld Institute of Art.


All works are oil and /or acrylic on canvas.


(abbreviated text from the exhibition catalogue)



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