From 9 July 2023, Museum MORE in Gorssel presents the exhibition A Curious Universe, featuring 45 works by the painter Jan Worst. He paints opulent interiors, richly decorated with tapestries, well-stocked bookcases, antique furniture and art, and chiefly populated by women and children. A world of wealth, luxury, privilege and physical beauty, with a voyeuristic undertone, ostensibly set in baroque palaces and English country houses. Worst’s work has been popular around the world since the nineties. With this major retrospective, Museum MORE becomes the first museum to focus on the impressive oeuvre of this Dutch artist, who turns 70 this summer.
Museum MORE presents the first museum retrospective of work by Jan Worst
Concealing and masking
During the past 40 years, Worst has painted a lavish, complex and fascinating oeuvre, with the emphasis on splendour and aesthetics. His choice of subject is consistent and recognisable. The mirror of apparent beauty conceals a mysterious world that raises more questions than it answers. How are the different personages related? What is the story in the painting? Why, for example, is the woman in Apparition (1997) on top of an antique dresser in front of a huge tapestry? What is she holding? Who is she looking at? Pomp and circumstance dominate, and the people in the paintings often appear to be no more than passive pieces of scenery. But that is the essence of the paintings: nothing is what it seems.
Do you want to get in the mood? Listen to the music that inspires artist Jan Worst.
‘The space in my paintings has to be unusual and fire your imagination. The painting suggests a story, without the story being told’.
Worst’s artworks evoke associations with fleeting images from luxury magazines. From a distance, every meticulously positioned brushstroke merges into an almost photographic image, but that is not what it is. The personages in the paintings appear to belong to the nouveau riche, but is that really the case? Deliberately, patiently and with delicate precision, Worst constructs a world that raises many questions. About his position in regard to the social environments he portrays, for example, about his relation to the characters who populate his worlds, and the relationship between the personages themselves. Or are these questions futile, and is he really solely concerned with beauty? It is thanks to all of these questions that the alienating worlds that Worst has created in his paintings in the last 50 years still remain mysterious, curious and unrelentingly intriguing.
Jan Worst (1953)
From 1971 to 1976, Worst studied to be a drawing teacher at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen. His career flourished in the late 1980s, when realistic and narrative art made a comeback, but he never belonged to a clear-cut movement or style: it is difficult to categorise his oeuvre. Collaborating with galleries, first in Amsterdam and later in Munich, Turin, Rome, New York and London, Worst has been catering to a global audience for many years. The artist places himself in the tradition of 17th-century interiors by artists like Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch, but his works feel anything but Dutch. In terms of their theme and air of nostalgia, Worst’s imagined worlds lean heavily on the elaborate narratives of the novelists Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann. Italian cinema from the 1960s is another significant source of inspiration, both in an aesthetic and conceptual sense. Museum MORE has three works by Jan Worst in its collection.
Loans are from Gasunie Groningen, the Province of Groningen, the ING Collection, Museum Jan Cunen, the Olbricht Collection and Dutch and international private collections. Worst is represented by Ben Brown Fine Arts in London, Hong Kong and Palm Beach.
A lavishly illustrated book accompanies the exhibition. Authors are Julia Dijkstra, Adrian Dannatt, Joke de Wolf and Sito Rozema. WBooks, Zwolle. 144 pages. Hardback. Price € 29.95. ISBN: 978 94 625 8560 7.
All photos of the art works: Peter Tahl