We are very pleased to show José Lerma’s first solo exhibition at VAN HORN. The artist has transformed the gallery space during the summer into his studio and created the complete exhibition in Dusseldorf. Much of the exhibition is devoted to Lerma’s current employment with the Düsseldorf school of painting.

Through reviews, publications and exhibitions, through the dissemination of works on the international art market, through travel, much branched friendship and family ties as well as by the partial global academic and professional careers of its protagonists, the work of the Düsseldorf School radiated far. Globally, the painters trained in Dusseldorf passed their artistic techniques, attitudes, teaching methods, subjects, tropes and discourses on to other art academies and to the emerging artist colonies. In particular, the Düsseldorf landscape and genre painting was for many years a leading and style-forming influence.

Starting point of Lerma’s exhibition is a painting of the Düsseldorf school of painting which is in the possession of the Museum Kunstpalast. The wall-filling curtain-piece is based on the painting “Gallery of Friendship, 57 individual portraits of the painters of the Düsseldorf school and her friends, 1835-1845”. Starting from this gallery José Lerma spans the arch of Friendship from Jan Wellem to the Prince-Elector Carl-Theodor to Emmanuel Leutze, and finally John Kerry who, as the current american Minister for Foreign Affairs, is the symbol of the friendly relationship of the USA to the rest the world is (or at least should be).

Leutze is depicted several times – and can even be walked on. His large portrait is airbrushed onto the carpet in the main exhibition space. He is insofar a key figure, as he created the iconic painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, which is a standard term for any citizen of the United States, and shows instead of the Delaware a piece of the banks of the river Rhine at Meerbusch.

Lerma forges a bridge of artist friendships and mutual influences over the centuries up to the present and reminds us that art being created locally by the respective artists, has always been carried into the world. International and regional flow smoothly into each other.

José Lerma is the jester at the court of high culture. Armed with a precise view, pen and subtle humor, he understands how to dethrone art with it’s own means. He alienates, abstracts and reduces relics of high culture, images of royal domination and the good old technique of “oil on canvas”. Remaining are all-over installations, ink doodles, oversized political caricatures and graffiti, which the artis reproduces by the means of acrylic spray paint on carpet remains and which cover walls and floors.

Lerma obsession with the insignia and symbols of historical events and personalities leads to an extreme use of trivialities and absurdities. His references to the heads of long-dead monarchs, feudal rulers, Wall Street bankers and other “VIPs” of the western world are closer to cartoon characters and coloring book silhouettes than to classical portrait painting. The sheer abundance of his all surfaces covering, outstretched visualized stories is overwhelming and pleasurable anarchic. He includes the viewer as a cultural filter consciously into his picture landscapes. His work can be perceived as extremely ironic and extremely critical. The faceless portraits from carpet swatches act more as logos or conceptual deconstruction as an imitation of the formerly porteyed – banned immortaly in oil. Through Lerma’s driven graphic approach to Baroque epic themes, he postulates high culture as personal, obsessive, neurotic.

José Lerma * 1971 in Seville, Spain, grew up in Puerto Rico. Recent solo exhibitions include, among others,
Andrea Rosen, New York, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, MCA Chicago, CAM Raleigh and Diablo Rosso, Panama City. Lerma lives in Chicago and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.