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  • Writer's pictureDimitri Ozerkov

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

When: 21.11.2019 - 08.03.2020

Where: The General Staff Building, Big White Hall


On 21 November 2019, the exhibition “I have turned my only face...” Paintings by Adrian Ghenie will begin its run in the General Staff building of the Hermitage. It is intended to acquaint museum visitors with one of Europe’s most successful young artists.

The display will contain 12 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 his childhood. For Ghenie 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.

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 and now lives between Berlin and Cluj. In the 2010s, Ghenie’s career rapidly took off: he turned from a regular member of the Romanian art scene into a figure in high demand at the international level, both by the art market and the museum community. Ghenie’s works can be found in prestigious art collections around the world, including Tate Modern, London, the Pompidou Centre, Paris 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 early connection with the Hermitage. At a young age, he was given an album of Dutch paintings produced by «Iskusstvo» Publishing House, 1984, 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.

Ghenie’s works are marked by a combination of blurred, rough textures and inclusions of light and colour that are at times shapeless, but elsewhere sharply outlined with the precise, almost photographic definition of individual elements. This play of contrasts produces a collage-like impression and adds additional depth: Ghenie’s unique style can be described as hybrid, dynamic and cinematic. The 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 figuration and abstraction that characterised the 20th century. Meanwhile, Ghenie considers Henri Rousseau – to whom he dedicated one of his latest series, Jungles in Paris – the first abstractionist. The artist often turns to traditional painting and produces reinterpretations of classic works, while admittedly disregarding recognisability, seeing his main task as capturing the freshness of 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 is presented in collaboration with Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

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