Eastern Europe was making a strong showing in Austin when I was there last week. Lora Reynolds Gallery was hosting Eastern European Painting Now, with two painters from Poland and two from Romania. Volitant Gallery was showing Svajone and Paulius Stanikas from Lithuania. (I suppose that Lithuania is not technically speaking in Eastern Europe, but as a victim of American public school education I tend to draw pretty hazy geographical lines.)
The color gray makes a strong showing in the paintings at Lora Reynolds. Why does this notsurprise me? Slawomir Elsner, one of the Polish artists, bases his paintings on images from Panorama, a photo-journal along the lines of Life Magazine here in the states. His father gave him a complete set from 1976, the year he was born. We get soft-focus glimpses of everyday life before the fall of the Soviet Union. Like Elsner, the two Romanian painters work in a small format with a limited pallet. Adrian Ghenie paints an urban landscape that appears buried under volcanic ash. Serban Savu, who seems to be the Edward Hopper of Bucharest, depicts solitary workers going about the daily tasks.
The other Polish artist, Wojciech Zasadni, didn't get the memo on only using gray and provides a blast of color. He creates low-relief wooden sculptures of covers from both English-language and Polish tabloids. They are brightly painted an come off as tawdry versions of polychrome religious art.
I am not prone to conspiracy theories, but a glance at these four painters resumes show that these “unknowns” are simultaneously showing in such high-profile venues as Haunch of Venison in London, the Kontainer Gallery and Chung King Project in Los Angeles, and Johnen + Schottle in Munich. How do these new A-lists develop? The paintings are all pretty good, but how have these four risen to the top of the heap? Watch for them, selling like hotcakes, at an art fair near you.
This was my first trip to Volitant Gallery. It is a 5000 square foot space in what was the lobbyof the Koppel Building at Congress and Fourth. The double-storied ceiling and the marble floor are a bit intimidating. Works by S and P Stanikas are everywhere. There are terracotta sculptures, large photographic works, and enormous graphite drawings. Again, gray predominates. As does gloom and sex. It looks like something you would find in the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Their resume shows that in 2003 they didn't make the pavilion but they did exhibit at the Palazzo Fortuny.
The Stanikas's come with an impressive resume and the work is very well produced, but I found in pretty off-putting. This could be a case of clashing cultural sensibilities, but it seems to me that an exhibition that includes an 80 x 120 inch drawing of oral sex should not be so heavy-handed and portentous. It brings out my inner Rodney Dangerfield.