February 10, 2017

By Hayley Kaplan

Every decade or so the perennial question of whether painting is dead seems to circle back into critical discourse. You would think that after the countless resurrections the medium has endured, that critics would instead exclaim that it has simply returned from a cyclical hiatus or better yet stop asking the question altogether. Whatever the state or fate of painting at this current moment in history, Adrian Ghenie’s exhibition of new paintings at Pace New York is a celebration of the medium as the young but prolific Romanian artist makes both subtle yet palpable allusions to the history of painting.

This selection of new paintings sees Ghenie, who was formally trained in representational painting, move further away from the thematic preoccupation of his previous works that often-feature historical figures associated with post-communist Europe such as Stalin, Hitler and the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Instead landscapes and portraits, executed in a spectrum of saturated pinks, yellows and oranges with visible strokes, points not only to Ghenie’s aptitude as a painter, but also his more recent exploration of the technical discipline of painting. In The Storm (2016) in particular, there is an almost complete abandonment of any attempt at figuration in favor of a collage like abstraction that bears little resemblance to his past works. Alongside the large format canvases are a series of small collages, that provide insight into Ghenie’s process as he uses the technique to develop the pictorial structure that is present in these paintings.

Three of the new works are self-portraits where Ghenie has wielded his favored pallet knife to obscure his own facial features into oblivion. The result is haunting and unsettling, causing the viewer to reflect on the nature of the inner self, in the same vein as the expressive, psychological painting of such luminaries as Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon.

The exhibition is timed to perfection, hot off the heels of Ghenies record-breaking results at last year’s high end sales which saw his 2008 painting Nickelodeon fetch £7.1 million ($9 million) at Christie’s London in October. However, these records could very well be the result of market speculation with one expert calling it “absurd”. Whatever the case may be the exhibition lives up to Ghenie’s meteoric status as painting’s most recent wunderkind.