J F Willumsen Museum, Denmark, 2013

In a powerful painterly language of bold strokes, clear contours and vibrant, raw color Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) and Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958) challenge and explore the notion of figurative painting. Their work questions notions of artistic originality and authenticity, of fine art and low culture and of the modernist belief in perpetual progression and irreversibility. With striking similarities in the subject matter as well as in the formal approach to painting the three artists state a solid belief in the impact of painting and the need to engage with its tradition.

Recognized for his merits as an early modernist in the 1890s, the late works of Danish artist J.F. Willumsen, which offer the starting point of the exhibition, have been regarded for a long time as banal, self-ironical and kitsch in his home country, whereas his entire oeuvre has remained largely unknown internationally- despite the fact that he spent most of his lifetime in Paris and later in Côte d’Azur. In that way the reception of the late work resemble the one of Picabia’s figurative works from the 1930s and -40s before they were elevated as a sophisticated postmodernist reflection on painting. The large-scale works of Schnabel has in other ways occupied an ambiguous place, being seen as a maybe too loud affirmation of a painting playing out an absolute subjectivity.

With the similarities in the history of their reception and the mechanisms of upgrading and downgrading in mind, the exhibition “Café Dolly” wishes to connect the three artists through specifically chosen works that play out ideas about the anti-heroic, the exotic, the excessive, the anachronism and the impure as well as the queer, meaning that which never really fits in anywhere.

The title of the exhibition “Café Dolly” has several references: Dolly, the cloned sheep that had far-reaching consequences for the cultural understanding of notions of authenticity and uniqueness. The country singer Dolly Parton, dismissed as kitsch. Café Dolly – a café in the outskirts of Denmark, where the project was conceived… The name “Dolly” playfully signals the balance between abjection and acceptance, canon and forgotten canvases that the exhibition wishes to interrogate.