Peter Doig: The Transformer

Peter Doig

an exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland, November 23, 2014–March 22, 2015; and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark, April 17–August 16, 2015
Catalog of the exhibition edited by Ulf Küster
Fondation Beyeler/Hatje Cantz, 176 pp., $75.00

Peter Doig

an exhibition at the Palazzetto Tito, Venice, May 5–October 4, 2015
Peter Doig/Centre Pompidou, Paris
Peter Doig: 100 Years Ago (Carrera), 90 x 141 inches, 2001

At times, when the fifty-six-year-old artist Peter Doig’s name comes up in certain art world circles—a world of curators, critics, and socially responsible artists who advanced on a steady diet of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and the bitter milk of anti–“patriarchal privilege”—there’s a great hue and cry. To begin with Doig is a patriarch—he’s the father of five, white, and not dead—whose grand ambitions, and interest in beauty and scale, have next to nothing to do with fashion, political or otherwise.

Still, there are complications of Doig’s biography that continue to stymie outright condemnation by some members of the museum world and others in the pleasure police. There are, for instance, Doig’s relationships to any number of pre- and post-AIDS-era gay men who enriched his life and he theirs. (As a young artist then living in London—he graduated from St. Martin’s School of Art in 1983—Doig appeared in an early Derek Jarman film, and continues to champion the work of the openly gay English painter David Harrison, among others.) There were, too, Doig’s early and later years in Trinidad and his paintings that included black figures and his StudioFilmClub, a weekly event Doig started in 2003, and that, until recently, screened independent movies made in the Caribbean and elsewhere. He has said of this enterprise:

Early on, we used to talk about…what’s a good film for here? But then after a while we just thought, Maybe that’s patronizing. Why shouldn’t people be able to see a film that’s not necessarily about their experience, even as metaphor; about something completely different.

Some of the critics, still dissatisfied by Doig’s credentials or what one might in a pinch call his humanism, raised a question about his alleged lack of sincerity—his supposed tricksterism—when it came to the world in which he put those black bodies. Was he not indulging the privilege of the colonialist when he painted Trinidad, a “third-world” country, with the lushness of an observer who was, so it was said, more interested in “exoticism” than the truth? Was Doig not, in his style and artistry, drawing a curtain between the spectator and the misery of the world? So doing, was Doig not cheating the viewer of the misery of that “other” world?

To see Doig’s show at the modestly designed Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen some days after an exhibition of his new work at the Palazzetto Tito in Venice—his first one-man show in Italy—is to be reminded of how crucial installation is to our understanding of an artist’s work. While the Louisiana show is larger and contains dozens of works made over a nearly-fifteen-year period, I think the curators’ slightly academic, straightforward approach feels right. Arranged not so much chronologically as by association—landscapes with landscapes, the more architecturally focused…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.