PREVIEW: 6 OCTOBER 2016, 6 – 9 PM

Wolfe von Lenkiewicz. Metahistory


Wolfe von Lenkiewicz’s practice proposes a ‘metahistory’ of art, in the post-mortem arena – after the rumoured death of painting – he breaks open the sepulchre of the official history of art and reanimates the corpses of the old masters, fashioning a new mythological history, a history about the history of art.

In Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) Fredric Jameson posited modernism as a critique of the ‘commodity’ and postmodernism as the consumption of commodification. Under postmodernism the act of consuming itself became a commodity. Lenkiewicz does not position himself as a monad, a singular artist who, by his unique and extraordinary creations is going to change history. Instead, operating from the position of a meta-postmodernist observer, he investigates our mythological construction of historical space.

Lenkiewicz deploys a metalanguage, painting about the dead language of painting, manipulating differing dialects of this language from different centuries to recreate the absent spectres of lost or possible artworks. This new series of work has an uncanny quality, in the original sense of the word, like an incredibly life-like doll, the paintings are so close to possible works that they induce in the viewer a vertiginous sense of history collapsing in on itself.

Leonardo painted Leda and the Swan in 1508, the original was destroyed as the three conjoined panels split apart; now lost, it was last seen in the court of Louis fourteenth. However, we know the painting through numerous copies, especially that of Francesco Melzi a pupil of Leonardo. Lenkiewicz’s re-enactment of this lost masterpiece paradoxically achieves an aura of authenticity by suturing together disparate elements from various Leonardo works and others: the rocks on the left from the Virgin of the Rocks, the swan from Melzi’s copy, etc. Lenkiewicz new work is even closer to what Leonardo’s original would have looked like than any of the copies.

Lenkiewicz practice embodies the notion of a mythological space, wherein is created a topographical matrix which allows the viewer to get close to something which no longer exists.

We are in an age when digital algorithms are fabricating Rembrandts which never existed. But these are far from Lenkiewicz’s enterprise; mere simulacra of original works. It is only because of the artist’s full mastery of the techniques utilised by the old masters, whether in Velazquez Dwarf or the ‘new’ Mona Lisa, that the conceptual basis of his praxis is fully embodies. Finally, in Fall of the Rebel Angels, Bruegel’s original apocalyptic vision is infiltrated by contemporary signifiers of destruction – warplanes and helicopters and the light of heaven is transformed into a luminous explosion. It is art history itself which Lenkiewicz explodes.

Richard Dyer © 2016

Richard Dyer is Editor in Chief of the art journal Third Text and author of the recent major monograph Wolfe von Lenkiewicz (Anomie Publishing, 2016).