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S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art Presents Works by Adrian Ghenie

The S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art presents an exhibition of work by Adrian Ghenie on view 27 March 2011.

The Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie (Baia-Mare, 1977) is showing in the S.M.A.K. a selection of paintings from before 2009 and a body of new work, including some collage paintings. Also, he is for the first time constructing his imposing Dada Room, a benchmark work in which elements from previous work merge.

Ghenie’s dense and tactile paintings with their complex structure offer a contemporary vision of major political narratives and such fundamental, universal topics as the abuse of power, exploitation and oppression, and also of a personal, individual human struggle. His critique is never direct, however, but always takes a roundabout route. Ghenie obscures all his historical and political references by fusing them with personal memories, film references, clichés from the entertainment industry and elements from art history. This gives rise to a continuous metamorphosis between fact and construction, a grid of fragmented stories on collective and individual catastrophes. Ghenie depicts a journey through the darkest realms of human existence, where a glimmer of hope nevertheless persists.

Historical Memory
In some paintings we discern a clear but elusive political undertone. Ghenie offers us a particular view, but takes the fusion of historical and personal references to such an extreme that the viewer can no longer distinguish them. He portrays figures who embody a political taboo or a horrific past as ‘characters’ or dream figures. For Ghenie they are part of the huge stock of images in our collective memory, which he uses as artistic material.

In his recent paintings Ghenie incorporates collages, which he cements in with paint. The added layering and the more abstract elements give these images an increased complexity and often force the viewer to revise his spontaneous initial interpretation. Ghenie’s recent work is constructed almost entirely around his fascination for the Cold War. To Ghenie, the image of the atom bomb is a modern variant of such things as the crucifixion of Christ. Only a few people witnessed it, but over the centuries the event has been endlessly depicted and reinterpreted. And between the lines of the mediaeval illustrations and mighty Renaissance paintings of the crucifixion, we actually read a history of Europe. What Ghenie is suggesting in this series is an alternative setting for our collective memory.

Dada Room
Ghenie’s Dada Room (2010) is at the heart of the exhibition and is where it starts and finishes. This room houses a synthesis of the substance of his paintings and at the same time his tactile, ‘accidental’ and material way of working are thoroughly thought through. The Dada Room is an almost life-sized model of the First International Dada Fair, which took place in a Berlin living room in 1920. The position of the paintings and objects is retained, but they take on a new purpose. According to the anti-logic of dada, autobiographical memories and artistic connotations merge with historical references, which here too are always discrete. Ghenie’s study of materiality, texture and surface reaches a climax in the Dada Room: painted walls turn into a thick substance on the floor, while an abundant use of paint makes the room heavy and absorbs the objects there. Ghenie experiments with the question of the extent to which a three-dimensional installation can still be perceived as a painting. After all, looking is also a way of framing: he will be starting on a new series of works based on photos of various compositions in the room. The Dada Room is in line with his previous work, but it is also a set for new possibilities. In this way the Dada Room offers an intimate glimpse into Ghenie’s studio and lifts a corner of the veil to reveal the nature of his artisthood.

Image: Adrian Ghenie, “The Dada Room,” 2010 (detail) Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp

S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art
Citadelpark – 9000
Ghent, Belgium

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