Dada is Dead, 2009
Romanian visual artist Adrian Ghenie’s giant haunted paintings left me breathless at the SFMOMA’s uppermost floor. The global impression I had was the one of a trauma, buried memories that Ghenie has tried to appear again. In fact, most of his artworks are meant to reflect the collective shock that Romania felt during the soviet dictatorship – and how it still has its importance on Romanian’s today society.
Working between Cluj-Napoca, Romania and Berlin, Germany, the painter gives a very particular texture to his artworks. I have heard many times that 21st century paintings were hard to re-invent themselves since abstract art from the interwar period – and sometimes, I quite agreed with this thought. But the very staged, cinematic, and phantasmagorical painted scenes exhibited there seemed to discredit that idea. The diversity of textures, the skillful chiaroscuro plays, and the ghostly human presence(s) in Ghenie’s works completely make them alive, but “damaged”.
His 200x220cm piece, Dada is Dead, particularly caught my attention. Not only because of the centered wolf (as it can be seen here), but because of the nostalgic effect of the setting (an empty-left room), the angle of the stage (a corner), the title (which contains… “Dada” and “dead”), and the dark, burnt, wet colors that he used. In an interview from 2009 (published in Flash Art #269), Adrian Ghenie explains the idea for the Dada artwork series:
“The state of painting today prompted me to choose this subject. The ongoing debate about the “death of painting” may be intellectually stimulating, but I think it is also anachronistic. There is enough evidence to conclude that painting is not dead. And yet, I wanted to return to the historic context in which this problem was first articulated. I view key moments and personalities of the avant-garde like Duchamp from a great distance and from a reversed perspective. Although I recognize the liberating effects produced by the outburst of the avant-garde movements (of which I am also a beneficiary), I can’t help but notice the extent to which some of their ideas — exposed in time to manifold appropriations — have imposed themselves with such forcefulness as to become canonical. I simply want to question this state of affairs without making accusations. But I feel I have the right to see idols like Duchamp or Dada in a different light.”
Dada is surely a dead movement, which still has imprints on contemporary artist’s works, for better or for worse. His painting, which would be appreciated here in San Francisco in the Six Lines Of Flight exhibition at SFMOMA, could also be seen as a metaphor of the artistic process, particularly when it is driven by a will to question a (past) practice, in a fictional world.