The direct source employed by Ghenie for The Second Presentation Room is El Lissitzky’s Kabinett der Abstrakten, the Russian Constructivist's installation room conceived in 1928 for the Landesmuseum in Hannover. Lissitsky’s Abstract Cabinet represented the modular, organized theoretical framework of Constructivism, which called for a new form of art in the service of social revolution. As first espoused by Vladimir Tatlin in 1913, Constructivism rejected the autonomy of art and cultivated a method of thought that fused art and industrial functionality. Such fusion is clearly articulated by Lissitzky’s visually integrated presentation room, which emphasized the immaculate organization of space and the unadulterated purity of all art contained within that space. Appropriating Lissitzky’s iconic room, Adrian Ghenie interrogates the hopeful ideology of the fledgling socialist revolution. As Mark Gisbourne writes, “The pristine world of utopian constructivist ideas of clarity and definition have been despoiled and violated; a sort of Baroque ruination and set of surface accretions have taken their place. But it is intended less by the artist as a banal commentary on the lost utopian hopes of a revolutionary modernism, but rather on the claustrophobic nature and eventual material stasis that inevitably flow from preordained ideologies.” (Mark Gisbourne, “Baroque Decisions: the Inflected World of Adrian Ghenie” in Juerg Judin, Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern, 2014, p. 28)
In Adrian Ghenie's childhood, Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceaușescu’s tyrannical Communist regime; a period of severe political oppression and unrest that has significantly informed Ghenie's work. The Second Presentation Room discloses Ghenie’s personal history through aesthetic reference to his acute sensory memories from childhood, characterized by “the dirty and grubby surface textures of his father’s garage and cellar, his grandmother’s roof and garden, or his brother’s garage containing various detritus.” As Gisbourne observes, Ghenie first saw these spaces as “messy and untidy but texture-laden surroundings of shabby objects, broken furniture, rotting food and apples...yet they have come in retrospect to summarize in his mind a certain perception of his childhood.” (Ibid., p. 29) In the present work, Ghenie fuses aspects of his personal history with events from national history. Although he borrows from Lissitzky and from his private memories in order to interpret--or make sense of--the collective public history to which he belongs, in the end Ghenie constructs something far more powerful than the historical referent or his intimate personal consciousness. Ultimately, Ghenie conceives The Second Presentation Room on the basis of past realities, blending both ‘public’ and ‘private’ histories together, and then distorting these realities through the lens of his own fictive imagination. Conceived through Ghenie’s tactic of distortion, there is a palpable tension manifest in the present work between the real and the imaginative. Ghenie articulates this dichotomy through the oscillating spillages of representation and abstraction, fomenting a narrative that revises and even fabricates what we know to be real.
In the shifting perspectival planes of the present work, areas of recognizable imagery yield to swathes of pure abstraction. Deploying a wild gestural abandon through cyclical overpainting and excavation, Ghenie constructs a claustrophobic aura that underscores the metaphorical significance of the enclosed room. In the present work, the room not only functions as the physical setting, but a psychologically-inflected room of haunting human memory. Rather than alluding to a world beyond, The Second Presentation Room is a self-engendered entity, a cavernous emblem of the enveloped psyche. Vandalized, fragmented, and broken, the room capitulates and gives in to itself, subsiding and crashing into the picture plane like the collapsed ideology of a once-hopeful social revolution. It is this quality of self-effacement and visceral power, as rooted in both historical and personal reference, that renders The Second Presentation Room one of the most poignant works in Ghenie’s oeuvre to date.
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