Adrian Ghenie: New Paintings
Devouring the gallery walls despite their generously spaced hanging arrangement—and despite their generally large as opposed to definitively massive dimensions—the paintings by Adrian Ghenie at Pace Gallery, amounting to and marking the Romanian artist’s first solo exhibition in a US gallery, are a riveting, haunting, unforgettable array. In taking them in, however, take note, too, that more than just wall space is offered up for the devouring.
Ghenie’s palettes are bold, nearly brazen, at times well-nigh conceptually abrasive—but work they do, and very well, and their range of brilliance is something beyond extensive. Earthy ochres, ambers, olives and ivories ground a rather consistent mix of interiors and outdoor visions, but vibrant fluorescents dance within and splatter about the very same canvases as if chromatic chaos were rushing in to lay visual landmines, or as if technicolorful underpaintings were rupturing forth to reclaim primacy. This internecine battle raging between interlappably heaving strata of paint, if not paintings, serves Ghenie’s abstractly figurative subjects quite well: a crouching figure surrounded by vicious canines in assault mode in an otherwise pacified, wintry birch-scape, although at second glance the dogs seem to disappear; a lone figure in a grand room arrested in fully wrenching, writhing guffaw as comeuppance gnashes him asunder from every angle, though a lovely lamp on a table remains pristine enough; some mildly deformed figure before some grim stone bridge, somewhere, awaiting some ominous meeting with a maker while lively smatterings out of a circus’s color box flitter about. The works seem to surge forth and suck you in all at once thanks to their contradictory energies, or their energetic synergies. Something about them is wondrously agape.
Combining with due deftness, and not always candidly, certain maneuvers and devices from a range of painterly predecessors and contemporaries, Ghenie creates holistically engaging, devastatingly strong compositions that still gasp and shudder with unique richness. They are enough his own to make formal influences scarcely matter, that is, which makes it almost distracting—if not also a bit disappointing—to learn that one or another among his generally faceless figures is meant to be Hitler, Darwin or some other Historical Figure, or that a certain scene revisits Nazi atrocities. There is nothing wrong, per se, in wrangling with such subjects, but Ghenie makes his references so pictorially ambiguous as to subjugate them to the checklist, and the same references are far from fresh. Ghenie’s works are too splendidly complex to seek such simple buttresses. Like walls and viewers, his paintings devour them, too.
Adrian Ghenie, Pie Fight Interior 8, 2012, courtesy Pace gallery