Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010
Ishøj, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Hotspot Cluj: New Romanian Art, May 2013 - February 2014
From the Old Master paintings of Martin Schongauer and Hieronymus Bosch to the Surrealistic visions of Dorothea Tanning, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí, the Temptation of Saint Anthony has captured the imagination of artists throughout the canon of art history, and remains today a poignant and enduring theme. Collectively exhibited in 2010 at Galerie Judin, Berlin, The Visitation series alludes, in title, style, content and context, to an array of sources which range from the deep, sombre palette and chiaroscuro of Renaissance painting, to the raw psychological intensity of Francis Bacon’s portraiture, and the deft manipulations of the painted surface in Gerhard Richter’s practice that simultaneously create, and shatter, illusory space. “On one hand,” states Ghenie, “I work on an image in an almost classical vein: composition, figuration, use of light. On the other hand, I do not refrain from resorting to all kinds of idioms, such as the surrealist principle of association or the abstract experiments which foreground texture and surface” (Adrian Ghenie in conversation with Magda Radu, in: ‘Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall’, Flash Art, November-December 2009, p. 49).
Throughout his oeuvre, Ghenie has expressed a deep fascination with the incarnation of evil, in both history and mythology. In Boogeyman, its presence becomes personified by the disquieting figure who looms over the artist. The title of the work refers to a mythical creature with no specific appearance that is used in storytelling across cultures and continents by adults to frighten children into good behaviour: the Boogeyman is the very embodiment of amorphous fear. The mysterious figure in the present work, with his roughly scraped and angular features, is reminiscent of the faun-like god from Greek mythology, Pan. Distinguished by his part-human, part-animal hybrid form, Pan, who was once a joyful symbol for music and revelry in antiquity, came to acquire a shadowy significance in Christianity: horned and cloven-hoofed, he would become the visual inspiration for Satan himself. In Christopher Marlowe’s influential play Dr Faustus, the protagonist famously makes a deal with the devil through his agent Mephistopheles, in which he agrees to renounce his soul in exchange for twenty-four years of unadulterated inspiration and creativity. Such bountiful powers, rousing and potent, surely form the basis of every artist’s greatest desire. Indeed, in the present work, Ghenie has portrayed himself as a modern day Leverkühn who, in a state of quiet contemplation, seems to deliberate over the Boogeyman’s devilish temptation. In his practice, Ghenie seeks to address how the events of the past – particularly those of the troubled Twentieth Century – infiltrate, impact and haunt the present. “I’m not a history painter,” he writes, “but I am fascinated by what happened in the twentieth century and how it continues to shape today. I don’t feel any obligation to tell this to the world, but for me the twentieth century was a century of humiliation – and through my painting, I’m still trying to understand this” (Adrian Ghenie cited in: Jane Neal, ‘Referencing slapstick cinema, art history and the annals of totalitarianism, Adrian Ghenie’s paintings find a way of confronting a “century of humiliation,”’ Art Review, December 2010, online).
Born in Romania in 1977, Ghenie grew up under Nicolae Ceausescu’s repressive communist regime. Today, he lives and works in Berlin. Ghenie has garnered international acclaim for his visceral pictorial language and psychologically charged paintings, which address some of contemporary history’s darkest chapters to metaphorically explore themes of malevolence, totalitarianism, dictatorship and the very fallibility of human nature. As the artist explains, “We inevitably live in a post-WWII epoch, which means that we constantly have to look back to that watershed moment in order to understand our present condition” (Adrian Ghenie cited in: Magda Radu, ‘Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall’, op. cit., p. 49). In his works, pigment is applied directly onto the canvas to create a complex composition where colours swirl around each other in an intricate and impasto amalgam of ambivalent sensations, mixed messages and unsettling undertones. Fading from light infused hues of warm rose and amber into the sober shadowy darkness where the Boogeyman lurks, the present work hints at the manifestations of evil embedded in society today. Behind Ghenie’s expressive and energetic strokes of paint lies an empty space of solitude, which speaks to the frailty of recollection, and the transience and inadequacies of mortal existence. Such resonating elements are exulted in Boogeyman: an extraordinary composite of the historical and the personal, the real and the imagined, the ancient and the contemporary, this esoteric work embodies a painterly palimpsest of identity, voracity and seduction.
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