For the past few years, Russian-born multi-media artist Anton Ginzburg has been exploring novel ways to bridge trends in global contemporary art with the aesthetic principles of early Russian Modernism. Deploying formal elements like color and space in simple, yet visually stimulating ways, he finds strategies that temporarily tame the bewildering present, aligning it with Utopian Constructivist thought. His most recent work is currently on view at Helwaser Gallery in New York, in the solo exhibition Anton Ginzburg: VIEWs. The exhibition follows a formula Ginzburg mobilized in two other recent exhibitions—synthesizing geometric abstract paintings on shaped canvases and vertical ceramic sculptures with a site specific mural and a video. The various works are contrasted by obvious physical and material differences. Yet, they share the same formal aesthetic language, a fact that elevates formal, visual qualities above artificial separations suggested by material differences. The subtle wit inherent in the exhibition reminds viewers that they are at liberty to decide whether they are looking at a room full of separate works, or whether the exhibition is better understood as a single installation. Constructivist theory is obvious within the aesthetics of the show, while that question of inter-dependability hints at the most pressing social and political issues of the present time.
VIEWs and Towers
In his two most recent past exhibitions, Ginzburg presented a series of octagonal abstract paintings, which he called ORRA. Their color relationships were based on the color studies of the Russian painter and composer Mikhail Matyushin (1861 – 1934). Those paintings were fully abstract. And at first glance, the paintings in his current exhibition also seem abstract. But Ginzburg alters the shape of his new paintings, swapping octagons for a four-sided form evocative of the pattern the wipers in a car make when they clear rain from a windshield. These compositions employ horizon lines, creating the sense that what we are looking at is not purely abstract, but is rather some reference to the idea of a landscape. This is not an objective landscape, however. It is more like a metaphysical landscape, or a landscape of the mind. Pyramids hover in the upper quadrant of several of the works, while cross-hatching lines create X patterns through the compositions. It is tempting to look for symbolism in the shapes, patterns and forms. But there is also something democratic happening in the liminal spaces where the colors and lines meet: we are looking at borders, and admiring how our perception of things changes when lines are crossed.
The two towers in VIEWs are assembled from ceramic modules, which are stacked upon each other to the height of 10 feet. Each module is an elongated hexagon, giving the towers a clear sense of volume. The hexagonal aspect offers the viewer the chance to consider the different effects light has when it falls on the various planes. Yet, when placed side by side, the towers can also be flattened by the eye to create a strong sense of line. Finally, the modules are painted, bringing color into the equation. These are simple, elegant statements of formal aesthetics. But there are also something more. They interact with the architecture, striving upward, becoming one with the built world. And they offer a visual complement to the paintings and the mural, which are themselves conglomerations of planes, lines, colors and forms. The towers are something to look at, but all towers are also things to look down from—they offer perspective at the same time as they are to be perceived.
Graphics and Pictures
Both the mural and the video in VIEWs bring elements of Russian Constructivism into play. The mural is a strong graphic expression, evoking the visual legacy of early Constructivist propaganda. Because of several mirrored elements that are attached to the mural, viewers are faced with the question of where they might fit into this heritage. If the colors and lines on the mural are the remnants of Utopian symbology, then what am I? What is this art gallery? Maybe Ginzburg is suggesting we are all part of the contemporary propaganda machine. If so, our current Utopian vision is appropriately subjective. The video, meanwhile, reflects the Constructivist embrace of reality through the legacy of photography. Instead of using photographic images to show us narrative stories of reality, however, Ginzburg has chosen to screen a video he created in 2013, called Color and Line. Shot in a laundry room, the video shows compositions of colored fabric hanging on laundry lines and scattered on the floor. The video occasionally goes dark as the lights in the laundry room are shut off. When the lights come back on, the composition has changed, turning the real world into an experiment in formal aesthetics.
All of the works in VIEWs are grounded in the three core principles of Russian Constructivism: Tectonics, Construction, and Faktura. Tectonics is the appropriate utilization of industrial materials. Construction is the purposeful arrangement of those materials. Faktura is the principle of allowing the physical properties of those materials express themselves honestly. Ginzburg shows us Tectonics by deploying materials like wood, paint, glass, ceramic and electronics in ways that are not only aesthetic, but are also socially and politically relevant. He shows us Construction by offering multiple distinct and conscientious arrangements of materials in space. He shows us Faktura by leaving the surfaces of his works painterly, and by leaving the sound in his video so we can hear him moving around in the dark and rearranging the elements of the composition, retaining the essence of filmmaking instead of covered it up in the editing. Faktura is what is most moving about the work—it reminds us to appreciate the making of art, and not to hide our effort and our processes. In other words, it embraces humanity, a perfect Constructivist message for our all-too-inhuman age.
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