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Painting politics with Adrian Ghenie

Inspired by the ideologies of communism and eugenics...

Ghenie’s works are inspired by ideologies of communism and eugenics, yet maintain a deeply personal quality.

Following the success of our LookingforU series on Instagram, Unit London are proud to present U-Greats, our celebration of modern masters of visual art, from across the globe, who have preceded and inspired the next generation of emerging creative talent. U-Greats will cast a weekly spotlight on iconic creators who, over time, have informed and inspired both our represented artists and the team here at Unit London. 

This week we present to you Adrian Ghenie.

Contemporary artist Adrian Ghenie braids together both personal and shared anxieties which address the collective traumas of the modern European world. Frequently painting 20th century historical figures who have been the cause of great human suffering, Ghenie’s works are inspired by ideologies of communism and eugenics, yet maintain a deeply personal quality. Ghenie uses found imagery – mainly figures – from various sources: magazines, history books, film stills and the internet, and recreates them in oil paint by deploying a series of scrapes, drips and smears which render his figures almost unrecognisable. This technique deeply distorts his subjects –  they appear as almost inhuman – gnawed, slashed and maliciously disfigured.

 Adrian Ghenie, Crossing the Sea of Reeds, 2016

Although subjecting his figures to great gestural violence within his paintings, Ghenie remains markedly forgiving and impartial on his subject’s misinformed intentions. Although Ghenie’s depictions of German SS officer and physician Dr. Josef Mengele present a figure with his features brutally scraped away, he states that when “reading the biography of Mengele, you realise that the Nazis were normal, obscure bureaucrats – then something happens that corrupts them”, and that, “it could happen to you or me or anyone”. Ghenie’s 2011 show at the Haunch of Vension in London featured human figures overlain with moneky-esque features. The canvases were inspired by the Nazi’s debased ideologies of Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection. “No discovery is ever good or bad – it depends how you use it”, says Ghenie. Indeed, the show also included a portrait of the artist himself, wearing a mask of Darwin’s features.

 

Adrian Ghenie, Untitled, 2011

Formally trained as a representational painter, Ghenie adopted conceptual tendencies from Dada, whilst also displaying both a Baroque mastery of chiaroscuro and a gestural handling of paint indebted to Abstract Expressionism.

Ghenie’s most recent works show a progression towards greater and greater abstraction, whilst retaining allegorical figuration which alludes to our memory, history and the present day. His 2017 exhibition at the Pace Gallery, New York, showed twelve new paintings and five collages. These rare collages give the viewer an opportunity to see Ghenie’s intentions for his finished paintings.

 

 Adrian Ghenie, Rest During the Flight Into Egypt, 2016

Adrian Ghenie was born in 1977 in Cluj, Romania and moved between Cluj and Berlin until 2013, when he finally settled in Berlin. Growing up in a small town in Romania, Ghenie compared official painters from his homeland with the classics of the Western canon.  Ghenie has held major solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kuns, Ghent and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest.  Amongst others, his work has been featured in exhibitions at the Tate, Liverpool, the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art and the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence.

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