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Edge of darkness

Stunning visuals charged with the quality of nightmare, Adrian Ghenie’s works inspire fear at the National Museum of Contemporary Arts. By Michael Bird

December 2009 - From the Print Edition

4 Photos
Darkness is the main character in the paintings of young Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie. The bulk of the work takes place on the same platform - floorboards and wooden slatted-walls resembling the backstage to an abandoned theatre - rich in grey, black, dark red and brown, the palette of sickness, mortality and rust, where his players are threatened by an encroaching night.
Since 2006, this 32 year-old Cluj-Napocan has mastered a style of paranoid entropy, with this compelling selection now on display at the National Museum of Contemporary Arts (MNAC). In ‘That moment’ the statue of an Olympic discus thrower is next to two bodies seated on a sofa, their torsos and heads replaced by a horizontal wooden board, facing an empty chair - a graphic image of faded glory and a grimly humorous critique of the sedentary life. Throughout his pieces, faces are scolded, the stage is charred and when there is a rare moment of freshness, such as a vase of daffodils, the paint is dripping, the petals stained and its image vanishing into exposed canvass.
Ghenie could be accused of being too misanthropic. In ‘Christmas Eve’, a woman is watching a blank television and a man in a vest is washing his hair, while cows and lambs gather in a too sombre rearrangement of the nativity scene. Meanwhile ‘The Collector’ shows a dictatorial figure astride two canvasses as though it were a podium – an obvious critique of the over-powering demands of the art collector – its significance restricted by self-reference.
Ghenie is best when depicting fear inspired by an ambiguous source. Most stunning is the massive canvass, ‘Nickelodeon’, where a row of men stand in long-padded coats, scratching their faces into a skin-coloured melt of oil and acrylic. The entourage resembles a decrepit nomenklatura addressing a crowd on a balcony, but could just as easily be tramps shuffling to a soup kitchen.
Ghenie depicts terror without judgement and distorts skin into a flesh-coloured abstraction, as though the characters are tearing themselves apart from the inside. This makes him the visual and thematic inheritor of crazed Soho-based genius Francis Bacon. Both artists use the abstract form as an actor in their work, crushing faces, disintegrating landscapes and erasing personalities – it is less a style than a force of corruption.

Michael Bird

Adrian Ghenie
National Museum of Contemporary Arts (MNAC)
Parliament Palace
Calea 13 Septembrie Entrance
Wednesday to Sunday
10:00 to 18:00 hrs
Until 14 February 2010

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