As a boy Adrian Ghenie came across a catalogue of Dutch paintings from The State Hermitage Museum
, St Petersburg, which had a profound effect on him, forming the basis for his encyclopaedic knowledge of art history. In his solo exhibition in the General Staff building at the Hermitage Museum, I have turned my only face
Paintings by Adrian Ghenie, the artists new works make reference to the work of the Old Masters in an artistic homage to the museums collection.
I remember there was a window open and a curtain blowing in the wind; this detail and the memory of it gave me a lot of peace. To me the museum felt like a home for art, not like a temple to art. -- Adrian Ghenie recalling his first visit to the museum in 2017.
Taking its title from 'On horseback at dawn' by Romanian poet Nichita Stănescu (19331983), the exhibition is curated by Dmitry Ozerkov, Head of the Hermitage's Department of Contemporary Art, and Anastasia Veyalko, Junior Researcher and supported by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. In these new works the artist has deconstructed the image more than ever before, inviting the viewer to decipher the shifting forms in his sensuously painted canvases. As he describes, the eyes dont recognise the figure but the brain knows it is there. These works continue Ghenies sustained engagement with the history of painting, recontextualising the aesthetic strategies of his predecessors, including Henri Rousseau, Vincent van Gogh and Théodore Géricault.
The dialogue Ghenie establishes with the Dutch Old Masters is conveyed with particular intensity as they hang in the same museum space. The fact that the viewer is able to repeat the artists journey and walk through the galleries that house these masterpieces is a unique situation. The locus of the Hermitage galleries forms a particular world of references and symbols in which Ghenies paintings exist. Anastasia Veyalko
Ghenie's The Hunter (2019) relates to Hunter with Dog in a Landscape (1625) by the Flemish painter Jan Wildens (15861653), which has formed the basis for several paintings and a related drawing also on view. The original is a typical genre scene in which a huntsman, flanked by his three dogs, stands in a confidently contrapposto pose, holding the rabbit he has caught. In Ghenies version the hunter is virtually subsumed by a maelstrom of textures, barely recognisable through the diagonals of his staff and leg, and the two abstracted dogs at his feet. Taking its title and subject from the 1649 painting Farm by Paulus Potter (16251654), which the artist has known since childhood, Ghenies riff on the theme conveys the impression of a writhing animal mass against a backdrop of corrugated iron and sunset sky, identifiable as cattle from the repeating horn shapes. Sharing the Old Masters fundamental concerns with both composition and colour, the works that Ghenie has selected are characteristic of genre and landscape painting of the period, and therefore their representative function is more important to him than their individual status.
Ghenies work does not break with tradition but is linked to it through the introduction of a whole system of readable allusions: recognisable subjects, details, colour tones. He establishes particular interrelationships with the art of the past, entering into dialogue with it, as if constantly looking back to his own childhood memories. In searching for a creative tension between abstraction and figuration, Ghenie makes paintings that are similar to traditional oil paintings but the techniques he uses to apply the paints are by no means traditional. Anastasia Veyalko
Throughout his oeuvre, Ghenie interweaves his situation with his state of mind, oscillating between the personal and the collective to create works that are simultaneously sensitive and provocative, embracing uncomfortable themes with a boldness that harks back to the innovatiions of his predecessors. Henri Rousseau (18441910) has long been a figure of fascination for Ghenie, who he regards as the first abstract painter due to Rousseaus detached treatment of surface composed of flat, overlapping planes and grids that foreshadowed many aspects of Modernism. Ghenies recent exhibition Jungles in Paris at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris is testament to his sustained engagement with the French artist and his second rendition of Antelope Attacked Near Gas Pipe further explores this violent yet seductive subject. A similar scene is depicted in Ghenies Untitled (after Rousseau) (2019), based on Kunstmuseum Basels Jungle with Setting Sun (1910), in which a dark figure wrestles with a wild jaguar against the tumultuous sky. In The Raft 2 (2019), Ghenie also reprises his contemporary analogue to The Raft of the Medusa (c. 181819) by Théodore Géricault (17911824), a previous version of which was recently exhibited at Palazzo Cini during the Venice Biennale. Ghenie depicts a mass of vulnerable limbs against the turbulent blue sea and sky, reminiscent of the harrowing images on the news, showing the perilous journeys that refugees are forced to make to flee conflicts.
Continuing his six-year series of hybrid self-portraits, Ghenies small but intense canvas Lidless Eye (2019) is inspired by Vincent van Goghs late Self-Portrait from 1889. When he visited Paris as a student in 1988, Ghenies first encounter with this famous painting in the Musée dOrsay had a profound psychological impact on him. One of the most distinctive examples of portraiture, Ghenie painted Self-Portrait as Vincent van Gogh in 2012, before expanding and elaborating upon this theme in a number of works created between 2015 and 2017. As the artist has explained, What intrigued me about van Gogh is this difference between the reality of his actual existence, which was a complete nightmare from top to bottom, and van Gogh the cliché, which is a beautiful fantasy. In this work, van Goghs distinctive features are combined with Ghenies own, visually representing the processes of inspiration and influence. The title reflects Ghenies belief that artists perceive the world differently their eyes are lidless because the creative mind never sleeps, but is always watching and looking.
Ghenies artistic method can be seen as a search for ideas in the real world that then undergo various transformations. By bringing these subjects, inspired by the world around him, into the new context of artistic space, he reveals them in an entirely different way: the original motif he encountered becomes subordinate to his own vision, to a new interpretation, to a mixture of other motifs; to a process of simplification or, on the contrary of complexifying through the addition of details. Ghenies childhood exemplars of Old-Master paintings are now replaced by his own memories and spontaneous feelings, which he transforms within the pictorial space. Anastasia Veyalko
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue that includes an interview with Adrian Ghenie and essays by the curators.
Born in 1977 in Baia Mare, Romania, Adrian Ghenie currently lives and works in Berlin. He draws upon the profoundly personal and the art historical, as well as a sense of national identity in his works, which bridge the abstract and figurative. As he describes, On one hand, I work on an image in an almost classical vein: composition, figuration, use of light. On the other hand, I do not refrain from resorting to all kinds of idioms, such as the surrealist principle of association or the abstract experiments which foreground texture and surface. In his paintings, Ghenie favours the palette knife over the paintbrush, enabling him to apply broad, expressive strokes and textures to the canvas.
Ghenie has been included in major exhibitions worldwide and he was selected for the Romanian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. The second of his room within a room installations, The Darwin Room (201314), is currently on view at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, until November 2020; his first, The Dada Room (2010), is now in the permanent collection of S.M.A.K. Ghent. Previous solo exhibitions include the Villa Medici, Rome; CAC Málaga; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest. He has also participated in exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Liverpool; Palazzo Grassi, Palazzo Cini and François Pinault Foundation, Venice, and Fondation Vincent van Gogh, Arles, among others.
Ghenies works are held in important public collections, including Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Long Museum, Shanghai; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, and S.M.A.K., Ghent.