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Karl Haendel at WENTRUP Gallery

WENTRUP is pleased to present "Praise Berlin," our third solo exhibition with Los Angeles based artist Karl Haendel. This new body of work focuses on contemporary religious diversity and practice in Berlin and is following the project “Praise New York” which took place in spring at Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery in New York. In a series of large-scale, realistic drawings depicting the hands of some of the city’s most inspiring Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim leaders, Haendel pays homage to a diverse group of pastors, imams, rabbis and priests. As much this project is about religious diversity, it is also about ethnic and racial diversity. Berlin is growing more diverse as immigrants arrive. Besides its Catholic and protestant residents, there is large Muslim population, growing communities of Buddhists and Hindus, and a small but vibrant community of Jews. Highlighting how these communities of believers are vibrant, welcoming, and tolerant, the artist hopes to provide space for viewers to reassess their own systems of belief, embrace complexity, and expand their acceptance.

In the past two years I have been exploring the idea of group portraiture through the representation of hands. It is a novel way to make a portrait, allowing people to express themselves with gesture and nuance, but free from the tropes and standards of beauty associated with traditional representational portraiture. And in a time of pandemic when touching isn't allowed, representing the hand seems only more interesting to me. The hands of religious leaders, as they pray or perform blessings or rituals, are filled with spiritual resonance, further compelling my interest in a time when faith in is short supply. And art across culture and time, from the hands of saints in Byzantine mosaics, to Buddha’s gestures in bronze sculpture, through to the mudras in Hindu iconography, have been filled with depictions of hands. This project continues that tradition, but with an emphasis on interfaith dialog and diversity. (Karl Haendel)

To make the work, the artist met with each leader in their house of worship, to talk about their faith, the history of their congregation in the city and to take reference photos of their hands. Back at his studio, Haendel digitally manipulated these photos to create new and often physically impossible hand compositions–contemporary reinterpretations of ritualistic hand gestures found in imagery across art history. But the digital affect is left imperceptibly visible (the same hand holding itself or a hand with too few or too many fingers), reminding us that these mystical and uncanny appendages are of the present. With these digital renderings used for reference, Haendel drew each hand portrait in pencil on paper, slowly and meticulously, at very large scale. In doing so, the artist uses his hand and labor to honor each leader’s labor, be it intellectual or as service to their community, as a kind of homage, expanding the definition of drawing to include ritual, meditation, and service.