Page 1

Mette Tommerup 1

Front cover images: Picnic 2009, oil on panel, 12” x 16” The Celebration 2009, oil on panel, 12” x 16” Suspended 2009, oil on panel, 12” x 16”


Mette Tommerup: The Instigator By Claire Breukel

It’s about deprivation—about not giving you what you want and forcing you to think about what’s actually there. - John Baldessari

painting style gives the appearance that her work is casual and accessible. Her ruse is in the subject matter. In contrast to her disarming colorful painting, her subject is subversive and dark, and often includes imagery that is strongly suggestive and sexual. The subject’s fragmented imagery provides only a partial narrative that displaces the work both in time and context. On the one hand the images appear deceptively appealing, and on the other their unexplained provocation is deeply disconcerting.

Burning Sofa 2010, oil on linen, 12” x 16”

As a result, Tommerup unravels our understanding of how we would conventionally decode imagery. Filled with a sense of intrigue at the unexplained, the audience is confronted with the task of defining their own ethical and conceptual position in relation to the image.

At first glance, Mette Tommerup’s paintings appear humorous, colorful and anecdotal. Moving closer one realizes that these modest-sized canvases are in fact, traps. Purposefully, Tommerup presents her work in a language that is at first easy to recognize. Her subjects echo the photographic and haphazard appearance of the images one finds online when doing a Google search, or on advertising billboards we see every day along the roadside. Further mimicking contemporary image culture, her dynamic color palette and “off-the-cuff ’

Labrador Costume 2011, oil on linen, 12” x 16”


than a congruent thematic commonality. This selection means that the themes in her work are isolated and obscure. As a result, like Sasnal, her paintings can only be viewed from the perspective of the present. Much like the brutal and deadpan Nordic aesthetic of Danish filmmakers Dogme 95, who create films using defined boundaries in order to strip their process to its essentials, Tommerup utilizes her own strict set of criteria to guide her process and rid her work of any excess of style that may interfere with the audience’s direct relationship with the image.

Newspaper 2010, oil on linen, 16” x 12”

As consumers we are used to visually decoding imagery according to a quickly implemented set of criteria such as color, genre and place of display. Mette Tommerup makes use of this preconception.

Tommerup’s paintings are done quickly and emphatically. This is reminiscent of the reductive process of Belgian artist Luc Tuymans whose criteria is to create a work in only one sitting in order to lend each painting a desired sense of immediacy. 1 Using a similar principle, Tommerup focuses on the portrayal of the subject matter rather than a precise painting technique.

To recreate the type of popular images that are often seen going viral online, Tommerup constructs and photographs her scenes, for example her Labrador wearing a harness that carries a stuffed monkey. Evocative of the genre of the “Jackass” TV series, these images often involve humiliation, acts of absurdity and prankster tactics. By translating them to paint Tommerup questions how we conventionally would read and relate to these images. Polish artist William Sasnal destabilizes the context of events in history in his work by placing World War II and the Holocaust imagery amongst trivial aspects from contemporary life as well as autobiography. By doing this, he situates his thematic perspective in the present day, making his work appear immediate and reactive. Echoing Sasnal’s thematic fluidity, Tommerup chooses her subjects for their visual impact rather

Potato 2011, oil on linen, 14” x 11”

1 Loock, Ulric, Luc Tuymans (Phaidon, 2003).


Edmund Burke describes that there are certain experiences, which supply a kind of thrill or shudder of perverse pleasure, mixing fear with delight.2 He emphasized that experiences provoked by aspects of nature, which due to their vastness or obscurity could not be considered beautiful, were likely to fill us with a degree of horror. The painting Potato offers up an elongated tuber bending sideways across the picture plane. Reminiscent of a large flaccid phallus, the base of this tuber humorously rests on a nondescript surface at the forefront of the picture plane and melds in to a horizon line by using a composition characteristic of a traditional stilllife. The brownish orange of the potato and the blue of the surface and the sky make the painting visually exciting. However, the reality of what could potentially be a severed body part resting upon a table surface is eerily farcical and insanely paradoxical.

Hanger 2010, oil on linen, 12” x 9”

In the work Hanger, Tommerup depicts a male figure suspended limply from a clothes hanger, arms dangling. Clad in what appear to be bright red boxer shorts and a yellow T-shirt, he offers no explanation as to why he is there. As if only being allowed to read the first pages of a suspense novel, Tommerup creates an entry to a narrative and then leaves the viewer…hanging. The unfathomable image is unapologetically confrontational as it forces us to imagine its narrative—perhaps he is drunk and passed out, perhaps murdered—yet through its obscurity the image also resists being intrusive, it is subversive without being shocking.

Mooning Garden Gnome 2010, oil on linen, 9” x 12”

2 Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1957).

Tommerup uses intrigue as an instigation to see “what takes hold of us when reasons falter and certainty begins to crumble,” suggesting that through looking, a process of selfassessment begins. Through this element of obscurity, Tommerup creates imagery that is at once sexually 5

is supposed to interact in the landscape” and, by making the figure gender non-specific, she subverts a traditional reading. By challenging how we follow and process systems of information, Tommerup is questioning how we are wired. She explains, “I examine the fringes of stereotype constructs and the territory of what makes a situation acceptable, humorous or offensive.” In the interest of freeing us from the limitation of these systems, Tommerup offers us an experience that challenges convention and overturns expectation. We are filled with a sense of fear of the unknown and the need to somehow navigate our way through a series of images that demand from us the type of consideration that is both uncomfortable and deeply personal. Diver 2011, oil on board, 12” x 9”

suggestive and gender ambivalent. In the work Diver we see a pair of legs half submerged into water. The moment is neither here nor there, and the gender of the legs is unknown. If we were to decode by stereotype, the female diver may suggest the woman is falling or that her legs are in some way “sexy.” However if it were a male diver he more than likely would be diving and asserting a physical prowess through the action. By choosing a middle space Tommerup leaves the audience to decide a role of dominance or subservience, “masculinity” or “femininity.” She does not specifically provide a space for the female gaze, but rather by its exclusion she undermines the ordinarily dominant male gaze. Riki Wilchins explains, “because the meaning of Man depends on excluding what is not-Man— what is Woman—it is also permanently unstable. It always operates under tension, under the threat of these exclusions.” This suggests that by removing the conventional masculine position, Tommerup poses the question of “how the female 3

Mining (Water) 2011, oil on panel, 11” x 14”

3 Riki Wilchins, Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, (Alyson Publications, 2004), 36.


Mette Tommerup: Mette Tommerup is a painting professor at Florida International University. Recent honors include acquisition of work through the Art Purchase Program at The American Academy of Arts and Letters in NYC. Her work can be found in public and private collections nationally and internationally.

Claire Breukel: Claire Breukel is an independent curator and arts writer interested in contemporary art that falls outside of conventional modes of exhibition. She is based in Miami and New York City.

This catalogue accompanies the exhibition Tipping Points at The Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum of Art, Florida International University, Miami, on view September 7 – October 2, 2011. 7


Mette Tommerup: The Instigator  

The annual FIU Faculty Exhibition of the Art & Art History Department features the work of William Burke and Mette Tommerup. Tommerup constr...