‘It’s Okay to Fail’: Rising Market Star Doron Langberg on the Lesson of Letting Paintings Go
The artist's solo presentation at Frieze L.A. juxtaposes exuberant depictions of flowers with some very explicit paintings.
The summer of 2022 was productive for Doron Langberg. Not only did he complete a new body of work that is being unveiled at a solo presentation at Frieze L.A. this week, the artist had an epiphany that may steer his artistic journey in a different direction.
The Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based painter, known to be part of an emergent generation of figurative painters, had been the kind of artist who did not allow himself to give up on a canvas. During his stay on Fire Island last summer, Langberg had an ambitious plan to create a 16-foot-long landscape painting with multiple figures. It was to be along the lines of his wider body of work, delicate and luminous portraiture that addresses gender, sexuality, capturing the essence of intimate encounters. But it did not turn out to be what he expected
He divvied the canvas and repurposed it into other paintings. “Deciding that a painting has failed and being okay with it, moving on, and starting a new one, is something that I have never done before,” the artist told Artnet News in a video call from his studio. “It was the first time that I failed on such a large scale. But I think that starting out with this sense of failure, in a way, was quite liberating for my body of work,” Langberg noted.
The episode allowed the artist to make clearer and smarter decisions, he said, about whether to pursue a work or not. “Not allowing myself to fail, trying to save every painting is actually a roadblock. It was coming out of fear, more so than perfectionism… I really listen to the process itself.”
This new hopeful approach courses through his solo presentation at Victoria Miro’s booth at Frieze L.A. His exploration of color, the themes of queer love and intimate observation, but the brushstrokes seem to carry a more spontaneous touch. Compared to Langberg’s London solo debut with the gallery in 2021, this new body of work appears to be less heavy. The U.K. show had also revolved around personal topics of grief, love, and death; not only were the paintings created during the time of Covid, Langberg was also mourning the recent death of his sister.
Among the large paintings on view in Los Angeles is Hibiscus 1 (2022). It depicts the flowers native to Fire Island that he spotted at his friend’s house, where he was staying on the island. The paint strokes are big, airy, and lively. “I wanted to capture the freshness and the exuberance of the flowers, thinking about artists like Andy Warhol,” Langberg said, noting a “lineage” of queer painting of still lifes. “Flowers [have a] relationship to queerness through aesthetics, beauty, and pleasure,” he added.
Langberg has also decided to include what is “probably the most explicit painting” he has ever made in this presentation, juxtaposing these sexual works with more symbolic paintings. Lovers 1 (2022), for example, is a passionate and intense depiction of sexual intercourse. The artist noted “the relationship between the sensuality of the pains.” Personal favorite of Langberg is Lovers at Night (2023). Sleeping (2023), which depicts a friend of the artist napping in a warm and cozy afternoon, is among another highlight.
The solo presentation of Langberg at Frieze L.A. has been in-line with Victoria Miro plans, according to the gallery’s director and partner Glenn Scott Wright, as the gallery does not have a presence in the West Coast. Last year’s presentation of Maria Berrio led to institutional acquisitions and discussions about further exhibition opportunities.
“We hope to achieve something similar with Doron Langberg this year. For us it’s not just about the sales at the fair, but long-term value we can achieve for the artist,” Wright said. Langberg’s works on show at Frieze L.A. are priced between $18,000 and $80,000. The artist already has a growing international following, with a core base in the U.S. that it is rapidly expanding to Europe and Asia.
Born in Yokneam Moshava, Israel, Langberg decided earlier on that he wanted to develop his artist career elsewhere. “Being a painter in Israel is just very, very difficult,” he said. He studied art at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University before settling into a life in New York. “I feel like I’m part of this really incredible community of painters,” noted the artist.
Langberg has become the subject of increased institutional attention. His work was included in a recent group show at at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston that looked at this new group of figurative painters, including artists Ambera Wellmann and Louis Fratino, who champion the intimate everyday.
In a major turn, he has a solo show at the Rubell Museum Miami that opened ahead of Art Basel Miami last December (running through to November 12, 2023)—such a platform and space is a major tipping point for a young artist.
Langberg has also caught the eye of the art market. A painting of his achieved an auction record for the artist at a Phillips sale in London last October, when the 2018 work Nir and Zach sold for £378,000 ($423,766). A 2017 work, called Virginia, will go under the hammer at the upcoming Phillips 20th century and contemporary art day sale on March 3 in London, with presale expectations at £30,000 to £50,000 ($36,668 to $61,113).
“Langberg’s paintings are captivating and intimate,” noted Olivia Thornton, Phillips’s head of 20th century and contemporary art, Europe. “They offer the viewer fresh perspectives around figuration, queer sensuality, and sexuality.”
Attention from the art market, especially watching his works being sold at auctions, is a “terrifying prospect,” Langberg said. But he also understands that it can be an inevitable part of the art world’s operation. “The only thing that can really protect me as an artist is to keep making work that people are interested in, and that is relevant to the conversation,” Langberg said. “It is the only thing that I have agency over.”
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