Adrian Ghenie is one of the chief figures of The Rumanian ‘Cluj School’ (Victor Man, Mircea Cantor and Ciprian Muresan are others), a painter who’s star has been rising exponentially since his relatively recent arrival on the art scene. His latest exhibition, Golems at Pace London, provides ample evidence of why he is so highly regarded.
The golem is an animated anthropomorphic creature from Jewish folklore, created entirely from inanimate material; a doer of terrible deeds. Ghenie’s reference here is the creation of a radical idea in society – in this case Darwin’s – let loose to change the socio-cultural environment. Darwin’s personal story holds a special fascination for Ghenie; the skin condition and vomiting that afflicted him, his luxuriant beard and Victorian attire all afford a rich source of textural possibilities that reveal themselves in this series of portraits.
The exhibition consists of a collection of new figurative works of Charles Darwin shown alongside the ‘Darwin Room’, an installation that consists of an assemblage of meticulously sourced 19th century furniture, wooden floor boards and wall panels. Taking the room’s composition from Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation Ghenie has created a three-dimensional environment that perhaps at first glance resembles a two-dimensional painting. Led in by an assistant with torch one reaches a dark and gloomy and life-sized room that evokes an intriguing physiological atmosphere of anxiety and comfort. The only light is that of the ‘light of reason’ which shines brightly through a small, solitary window – the room therefore a prototypical site for visionary thought within European history.
The installation itself devoid of figures. These are supplied by the impressive artworks in the adjacent room. Portraits of 20th century figures whose actions indelibly changed the course of history are a recurring theme in Ghenie’s work and to him the publication of The Origin of Species represents such an inflection point – his ideas stolen by despots and dictators and misappropriated.
Ghenie presents himself in Self portrait as Charles Darwin, 2014 and he himself becomes the arbiter of scientific change, the cliché of the tortured intellectual, and the anamorphic threat of the Golem; the idea let loose to reek havoc. All of these elements are present in Ghenie’s Bacon-esque brush strokes. He highlights an era that questioned man’s significance, the existence of God, and the question of Creationism —through a use of paint that suggests the anamorphic nature of identity through the evolution of scientific understanding.
These works however are not just introverted intellectual exercise or conceptual navel-gazing, they are visually stunning and beautifully executed. The merging of impressive technique with rigorous artistic thought process provides the viewer with a rich and stimulating experience that will enhance Ghenie’s reputation not only critically but in the auction houses of the future.
Adrian Ghenie – Golems is at Pace London until 25 July 2014.