‘Every Painting Is Abstract’: Adrian Ghenie on His Recent Work and Evolving Sense of Self

Adrian Ghenie, Rest During the Flight Into Egypt, 2016, oil on canvas. ©ADRIAN GHENIE/COURTESY PACE GALLERY

Adrian Ghenie, Relaxation Throughout the Flight Into Egypt, 2016, oil on canvas.


The giant and small works in Adrian Ghenie’s “Latest Work” present at Tempo Gallery in New York—comprising latest work, as may be surmised, but additionally preparatory collages—vary from figurative to summary and again once more. The finer factors of such distinctions, nevertheless, are beside the higher total level for an artist who retains a variety of religion in portray as an enterprise.


Adrian Ghenie.


“Each portray is summary,” Ghenie mentioned within the midst of an exhibition that counts as his first in New York in almost 4 years. “I don’t imagine in figurative. As quickly because it begins to mimic, to depict one thing, then a portray is lifeless. That is the second while you kill portray.”

Compositions might be figurative, he mentioned, however the energy of portray—when it has any energy in any respect—is much less within the trigger than within the impact. And that impact is summary whatever the parts that went into creating an image or contemplating it after the very fact. “Folks think about that abstraction is a few sort of gesture,” Ghenie mentioned of those that method abstraction as a rhetorical stance. “However while you attempt to paint a tree, you notice, ‘I can not paint all of the leaves, I can not paint all of the textures.’ So you must invent a motion of the comb that will counsel, in your thoughts, a tree. That’s, basically, summary.”

Subject material, although, might be as concrete as could possibly be possible. To the factors of reference he has privileged as private touchstones all through his profession up to now—Tintoretto and the Venetian college, the early Flemish Renaissance, Vincent van Gogh—the 39-year-old artist has added more moderen allusions. Relaxation Throughout the Flight into Egypt (2016), filled with slashing, sloshing colours (magentas, blues, and reds) and drama that’s inescapable at a scale of almost 10 by eight toes, attracts on the latest refugee disaster roiling Europe. So does Crossing the Sea of Reeds (2016), the identical measurement however darker and extra ominous, with gulls and fish spying a water-borne determine bobbing in a lifejacket.

“Portray has all the time reacted to large, epic tales, whether or not battles or biblical tales,” Ghenie mentioned. “Artwork historical past is already filled with this sort of depiction”—of battle, toil, persecuted individuals shifting en masse. “Every little thing you see on TV, for those who take away the garments, it’s the identical as a Renaissance scene—a person adopted by his spouse holding a toddler with a panorama within the background. The one factor that’s lacking is a donkey.”

The refugee disaster has struck near house for the artist, who has lived for years in Berlin after having grown up in Romania. However it’s one other abstraction of a form for a painter who stays—in Ghenie’s thoughts, a minimum of—fated to abstraction regardless of the topic at hand. “The topic of migration was utilized by artists within the Renaissance and the Baroque period as an excuse to color landscapes,” he mentioned. “The church would by no means pay for only a panorama, so the panorama needed to be a background for a biblical scene in entrance. Artists weren’t going to combat with the church, in order that they discovered this good topic. They shot two rabbits with the identical bullet.” (This final level, he averred, is a Romanian means of in any other case speaking about birds and stones.)

Adrian Ghenie, Crossing the Sea of Reeds, 2016, oil on canvas. ©ADRIAN GHENIE/COURTESY PACE GALLERY

Adrian Ghenie, Crossing the Sea of Reeds, 2016, oil on canvas.


The current sense of upheaval on the planet, nevertheless, is extra than simply mere aesthetic pretense for an artist whose roots develop again to Romania. “I’m not attempting to make my biography like I grew up in a communist dictatorship—I used to be only a child, I didn’t have any trauma,” he mentioned. “However what occurred in Romania after ’89”—the autumn of the Berlin Wall—“was very attention-grabbing. Whenever you notice a complete nation might be manipulated and made to imagine one factor about itself, after which the regime falls and you discover out that no, it was the opposite means round . . . I noticed how it’s potential to govern a complete nation. What’s the reality? What’s trauma? Will we simply suppose we’re humiliated, or are we actually humiliated? In the long run, wars and tragedies are all the identical.”

His artwork shouldn’t be political in a direct sense, he mentioned—a minimum of no kind of political than some other artist’s. “Are you able to be apolitical right now? Might you be apolitical after the French Revolution? Was Rothko apolitical and Rauschenberg political? Was Goya a political painter? It is a faux idea.”

One other topic surrounding Ghenie proper now is the ascendance of his work in the marketplace, with work of his commanding costs that not all agree are rational—together with the artist himself. Nickelodeon, a piece from 2008, fetched £7.1 million ($9 million) at public sale at Christie’s in London last October, and Flight into Egypt (2008) went for $three.9 million in November in New York.

“You possibly can’t ignore it—how will you ignore that?” he mentioned. “Asking an artist, ‘How does the market’s hysterical conduct have an effect on you?’ is like asking a loopy particular person, ‘How loopy do you suppose you’re?’ Perhaps it has affected me, however I might say, to the mirror within the morning, it hasn’t.”

Adrian Ghenie, Self-Portrait, 2016, oil on canvas. ©ADRIAN GHENIE/COURTESY PACE GALLERY

Adrian Ghenie, Self-Portrait, 2016, oil on canvas.


He continued, “To start with it was flattering, however then it received to be a bit bizarre. It’s like if any person tells you there’s a porn film about you on the web and you can’t do something about it. How would you react? They are saying, ‘Oh, no, you look good in it—you’re scorching.’ Nevertheless it’s nonetheless a porn film, and also you notice, Okay, I’ve to dwell with that. My mates and all people can see it, nevertheless it’s not unhealthy. It’s not embarrassing. It’s one thing vulgar, nevertheless it’s not in my management.”

Residing in Berlin supplies a buffer, he mentioned. “One of many issues l love about Berlin is it’s not a metropolis that’s obsessive about movie star. As a result of there isn’t a cash there actually, it’s a metropolis that has accepted anonymity. We don’t have a social pyramid like London or New York. In Berlin, I don’t suppose something of it.”

Nonetheless, it’s a matter that’s inescapable. “One factor I can say for positive is that the media and the market created a second persona, an individual created and fed by the media and the market,” he mentioned. “I don’t know if it’s me, however this particular person exists.”

Questioning of that kind would appear to pertain to a collection of self-portraits within the Tempo Gallery present (on view by way of February 18), which options smaller frontal headshot work that current the artist in what look like various phases of evocation and erasure. “I desire a deconstruction of the portrait,” Ghenie mentioned. “Within the 20th century, the individuals who did it actually radically had been Picasso and Bacon. They took parts of the face and rearranged it. There isn’t a nostril, there isn’t a mouth, there isn’t a eye—no sense of anatomy.”

“The portrait,” he continued, “was a panorama, mainly.”