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  • Writer's pictureDimitri Ozerkov

“I have turned my only face...” Paintings by Adrian Ghenie

On 20 November 2019, the exhibition “I have turned my only face...” Paintings by Adrian Ghenie opened in the General Staff building of the State Hermitage. It is intended to acquaint museum visitors with one of Europe’s most successful young artists.

The display contains twelve paintings, including ones that were created under the impression of the reproductions of pictures in the Hermitage that the artist used to look at in childhood. For Gehnie national identity (the title of the exhibition includes a quotation from a poem by Nichita Stănescu, Romania’s national poet who was nominated for a Nobel Prize) and profoundly personal biographical elements (life in the period of “stagnation”; childhood emotions aroused by his parents stories of Eastern bloc countries) form two pillars of his art.

Opening the exhibition, Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, said: “I am delighted to welcome Adrian Gehnie and Thaddaeus Ropac, together with whom we have already organized previous exhibitions. I am very glad that with this exhibition we are continuing our traditions and presenting Adrian Ghenie, one of the most renowned and successful contemporary artists whose star has soared into the firmament of the artistic world. Adrian Ghenie has recently made several remarkable large projects. Together with him we are continuing our tradition of presenting contemporary art because it never exists in isolation but is always connected with the traditions of classic art and the collections of the Hermitage, directly or indirectly. In the present instance we have a superb example of a very modern, very innovative artist Adrian Ghenie consciously developing the traditions of classic art and the art of the previous generation – artists of the New World. That is evident in his pictures. The line of artistic succession – that is what we try to detect and to show in everything that falls into the Hermitage’s hands. Besides, here he have a truly fairy-tale story: Adrian grew up in socialist Romania and the main book of art that he had was a catalogue of pictures in the Hermitage. He used them to train. He copied them and here there are several paintings born out of Hermitage subjects. That is very moving, beautiful, and we like that very much. Old art does not simply influence, it finds its continuation in the works of remarkable artists of today. I am very pleased that in Adrian’s art classic traditions and the traditions of classic modern art are finding such an attractive embodiment and continuation.”

Adrian Ghenie was born in 1977, in the Romanian city of Baia Mare, at the tail-end of the Ceaușescu regime. He graduated from the Art and Design University of Cluj-Napoca. At the present time he lives between Berlin and Cluj, where he has opened a gallery of contemporary art. In the 2010s Ghenie’s career rapidly took off: he turned from a regular member of the Romanian art scene into a figure in demand at the international level, by both the art market and the museum community. Ghenie’s works can be found in prestigious art collections around the world, including the Tate in Britain, the Pompidou Centre and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2015, the artist represented Romania at the Venice Biennale.

The uniqueness of Ghenie’s story lies in his connection from the first with the Hermitage. At an early age, the young Adrian was given an album of Dutch paintings produced by Aurora Art Publishers and it became his chief source of inspiration for a long time. Over many years the future artist copied step by step the reproductions of the masterpieces in the Saint Petersburg museum, eventually arriving at his own artistic style.

People have found the origins of Ghenie’s manner of painting in Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter. It is described as hybrid, dynamic and cinematographic. Ghenie’s works are marked by a combination of blurred, rough textures and inclusions of light and colour that are at times shapeless, at others, on the contrary, sharply outlined with precise, almost photographic definition of individual elements. This play of contrasts produces a collage-like impression and adds additional depth. This artist rejects the use of the brush, preferring the palette knife and spatulas. A restrained colour scheme is disrupted by chromatic explosions that scintillate like a glitch in a digital image or patches of oil on water. This combination of the chaotic and the orderly affects the viewer on an almost physiological level: Ghenie’s painting aims at a sensual, intuitive perception.

Ghenie’s creative philosophy is founded upon a distinctive understanding of abstraction: he considers his painting technique to be a resolution of the conflict between figurativeness and abstraction that characterized the whole of the 20th century. Meanwhile Ghenie calls Henri Rousseau, to whom he has dedicated one of his latest series – Jungles in Paris, the first abstractionist. The artist often turns to traditional painting and produces replicas of classic works, while admittedly disregarding recognizability, seeing his main task as being the freshness of the sensations.

The exhibition curators are Dmitry Ozerkov, head of the Hermitage’s Department of Contemporary Art, and Anastasia Veyalko, junior researcher in that department.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue in Russian that contains an interview with Adrian Ghenie and essays by the curators. The exhibition has been prepared in collaboration with the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

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