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Adrian Ghenie, Charles Darwin as a young man, 2014, oil on canvas, 49 cm x 32.5 cm x 4.5 cm (19-5/16" x 12-13/16" x 1-3/4") unframed, 52.5 cm x 36 cm x 4.5 cm (20-11/16" x 14-3/16" x 1-3/4") framed © Adrian Ghenie

Adrian Ghenie

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b. 1977, Baia Mare, Romania

Adrian Ghenie surveys and subverts historical and artistic narratives through his paintings, which aim to unearth feelings of vulnerability, frustration, or desire, and often draw on human experience and ideas of the collective unconscious.

After living in Vienna from 2002 to 2004, Ghenie returned to Cluj in 2005, where he co-founded the production and exhibition space Galeria Plan B with multimedia artist and curator Mihai Pop. A critical venue for representing Romanian artists, the gallery held Ghenie’s first solo exhibition If You Open it You Get Dirty (2006). His paintings during this time took on the form of mise-en-scènes, depicting starkly lit, quotidian spaces that evoke the artist’s own subconscious, seen in Basement Feelings (2007) and Memories (2007). In 2008, Galeria Plan B expanded, opening a location in Berlin, and Ghenie began to divide his time between both cities.

Ghenie’s paintings developed during this time to include themes of history, memory, and the legacy of villainous historical figures, particularly of his native Romania. These figures, largely derived from mid-twentieth-century historical sources, appear in haunting interiors as dreamlike or cinematic vignettes. Ghenie also began to appropriate tropes from slapstick film, manifesting in his Pie Fight paintings that, in a confluence of figuration and abstraction, depict historical or cinematic figures whose faces are freshly slathered with a custard pie per the comedy of the Three Stooges.

His recent work is driven by historical conflict between the irrational and rational, particularly in key ideas or moments that have incited social tumult. These tensions manifest in Ghenie’s paintings through a confluence of abstraction and representation and extend to collage, assemblage and installation. With Dada Room (2010), he draws from an historical event in The First International Dada Fair. The custom-built room, lit by a single fluorescent light, is an amalgam of imagery, color, and objects that form a three-dimensional manifestation of Ghenie’s painting style. Dark and gritty, Dada Room becomes a revelatory symbolic gesture of the collective unconscious and the inner workings of the artist’s own mind and process.

The Darwin Room (2013–14), shown at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and curated by Mihai Pop, is comprised of a tableau set in a darkened room, complete with golden light illuminating the space in chiaroscuro true to its source: Rembrandt’s The Philosopher in Meditation (1632). The installation is constructed to frame a way of looking, essentially shrinking the divide between three-dimensional space and the two-dimensional picture plane. The intent to “convey the idea of a cocoon” that is absent of, but evokes, human presence emphasizes Ghenie’s meditation on intellectual and philosophical history while critical of the iconographic and academic aesthetic that led to the despotic conditions of the twenty-first century.

Ghenie conflates and extends historical painting techniques, displaying both a Baroque mastery of chiaroscuro and a gestural handling of paint indebted to Abstract Expressionism, while the tendencies of Dada—associating images to activate their symbolic meanings—drive the conceptual components of his work.

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Adrian Ghenie, The Darwin Room, 2013-2014, mixed media, 350 cm x 435 cm x 735 cm (137-13/16" x 171-1/4" x 289-3/8"), internal dims 380 cm x 650 cm x 740 cm (149-5/8" x 255-7/8" x 291-5/16") © Adrian Ghenie

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Adrian Ghenie, Charles Darwin as a Young Man, 2013, oil on canvas, 17-11/16" x 16-15/16" (45 cm x 43 cm) © Adrian Ghenie