Meaty Montage Entails Entrails

‘African butchers don’t use electric saws as Europeans do but cut up the meat by hand which produces a variety of styles. The slaughterhouse was in the open air and in front of it a small market where they would sell the still warm meat. I consider these portraits still lives.’ – Alex Van Gelder

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are intrigued at this curated collection of carnivore creations.

Van Gelder’s 'Meat Portraits' is a series of visceral photographic studies of animal remains from a slaughterhouse in Benin, which upends traditional notions of portraiture. The collection is presented by Hauser & Wirth in London.

Van Gelder photographs raw meat and entrails, either as he finds it in the marketplace, or after arranging it into contorted compositions, as if staged for a formal portrait.

Whereas portraiture delves into the soul of the sitter, Van Gelder’s Meat Portraits literally delve inside their subjects, exposing the findings in an unrestrained portrayal of corporeality.

Meat Portraits are reminiscent of the traditional African deathbed portraits that Van Gelder collects, where a photograph of the deceased is placed alongside their bed, around which the family gathers to pose for a photograph.

Sinewy Still Life

In ‘Meat Portrait #010’, innards drape sacrificially, bulging and engorged, from a metal shelf set against a rock face. A group of blue-green flies can be seen busily digesting the inanimate shining mass of colors and shapes, another sign of ongoing life amidst decay.

In the more deliberate compositions, cracked and dirty basins create a frame for the ambiguous animal parts, with an impervious black surround, like a shroud, echoing the darkness of death. Within some of the portraits it is possible to discern a human profile or ghoulish face.

In ‘Meat Portrait #037’ Van Gelder depicts an assortment of offal laid haphazardly in a blood-stained bowl to give the impression of wet cloth, as if it were a basket of clean laundry waiting to be hung out to dry.

Other compositions are more figurative and veer towards taxidermy, resembling anatomical studies that might be found in a surreal zoological museum.

Extensive Exhibition

Two additional series by Van Gelder will be displayed in this exhibition: Organized Crime and Painted Paint. For the Organized Crime series, Van Gelder has further dismantled animal carcasses.

In these works there is an explosive sense of violence and butchery, jaws wrenched out of place and eyeballs askew. The distinct and jarring textures – of muscle, bone, skin, tooth, and fur – create abstract compositions in a cacophony of color and noise.

In Painted Paint, Van Gelder photographs containers full of blood and guts and other remaining slop from the animal’s emptied carcass, calling to mind a pot of paint, the sponge and froth on the surface brimming with potential.

Alex Van Gelder lives and works in Paris.

Based in Africa for several years, Van Gelder is a collector of twentieth-century African photography. Works from his collection were exhibited at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland in 2006, and Phaidon published ‘Life & Afterlife in Benin’, a book of the collection, to accompany the exhibition.

Van Gelder’s previous artistic projects include a portfolio of 18 photographs of Louise Bourgeois’s hands in the final years of her life, exhibited at Hauser & Wirth Zürich in 2011.