WOLFE VON LENKIEWICZ: PAINTINGS: GALERIE MIRO, PRAGUE
9 Jul – 19 OCT 2014
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz is an artist who is helping to give shape to a concept about contemporary art forms while remaining true to the traditional hanging picture.
Like certain other contemporary British artists, he finds inspiration in the past. This is quite surprising for the Czech art scene; it may attest to our relatively weak engagement and interest in historical heritage. Lenkiewicz is not only a painter, but has formal education in theory (he graduated from the University of York with a degree in Philosophy in 1989, aged 23). He found a way to deal with the past and with the enormous heritage that most artists can only ignore.
Most importantly, he became cognisant of challenging those developments that are simply perceived in chronological order, like a timeline that points to a certain goal (be it abstraction as the highest form of art, art in the service of politics – as a tool for transforming human society, or art as a means of salvation). Postmodernism was typically characterised by this questioning of goals. Artists felt free to gain inspiration from the artistic discoveries of the past and found new, exciting nexuses in the new environment. Typical examples are the Central European Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s and 90s and the Cubist-inspired Neo-Expressionist- like art that was being created at that time in the Czech lands.
Lenkiewicz, however, approaches art history in a far more all-encompassing and sophisticated manner. He recognises the importance and significance a certain picture has for a certain period, yet he is also aware of its transformation, meaning and significance for another period and realises that even he can assist in its transformation, waking the work from its “museum dream”. As a result, a set of remarkable pictures – seemingly familiar, yet different and filled with new meanings and contexts – are now on display at MIRO Gallery inside Prague’s Strahov Monastery complex.
Lenkiewicz admires Picasso’s creative contribution and, in these regards, the boldness with which he approached historical motifs and paintings. In fact, Picasso could also be considered an important explorer and father of postmodernism given his voyages into the world of his own predecessors – Velázquez, Manet, Eugéne Delacroix – and the world of African and Iberian primitive art. The greatest amount of space at MIRO Gallery is devoted to Picasso. On display is a painting from earlier this year, a variation on what is perhaps Picasso’s most important painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This painting by Picasso is considered the first great work of Cubism. It had been preceded by a series of portraits from the Pyrenees countryside, studies of Barcelona nightclubs, a search for wild and primitive expression worlds apart from the Paris, bourgeoisie aesthetic. As Picasso’s fascination with the primitive art of African and Iberian tribes also played an important role, here African masks have replaced the young women’s ragged faces. What Picasso implied in his painting is expressed without restraint here.
Several of Picasso’s paintings were of service to Lenkiewicz when he created the extensive Saltimbanques canvas. Here he unites similar motifs from the period when Picasso illustrated scenes from the lives of circus performers, artists – social outcasts. He has regrouped these icons of modern art into new compositions, thus creating a continuation and even mixing Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods.
The suite of Picasso’s famous prints from this environment is recalled in the masterful print titled The Frugal Repast, in which both figures’ portraits have been switched for others.
Picasso’s portrait of a young woman has also been used to portray Alice in Wonderland. Here a number of small animals, illustrations to Alice in Wonderland, have been added to the Cubist-Surrealist portrait.
And finally in Pierrot, Picasso’s Harlequin impressively blends with Antoine Watteau’s Pierrot-Gilles – a surprisingly similar testimony from a different world 200 years earlier. The artist fostered the further space- time dimension of the painting by layering on a vividly-coloured mesh of dots, a nod to Sigmar Polke’s bright grid. Here Wateau’s Gilles seems to attain true timelessness.
Playing card pictures, patience, tarot, the ornamentally geometric contemplations of De Stijl, fractal geometry and Gothic engravings are all at the heart of the 2011 picture Death. A skeleton/Charon transports bones and a jumble of fleeting insignia, symbols of human success, across the river of oblivion. Similar playing-card and geometric motifs overlap Egon Schiele’s two lovers on the picture Death and the Maiden. Lenkiewicz’s boundless creative work is illustrated in his ascription of symbols of destiny and mediaeval mysticism to Schiele’s painting.
De Stijl and geometric art brought the artist’s investigations to the Netherlands. Small pictures combine traditional Delft faience together with the radical geometric art of Piet Mondrian. Though entirely different, these two positions in Dutch art can be used in decoration and design, together testifying to the close accord that exists in a sort of strict, congruous minimalism and clear order.
Despite his genuine passion and admiration for Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most engaging work in the exhibition is the fantastic and mysterious triptych titled The Haywain, loosely inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. His paintings of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, crowded with desperate human, animal and demonic beings, are filled with depictions of the Hindu god Vishna, who is portrayed in many forms. The Christian god is also present, both as God the Creator and Jesus in the heavens. It seems, however, that Bosch’s diabolical chaos is close to Vishna’s direction, whereas God is initially also up top, in the nearly inaccessible heavens.
Once again, MIRO Gallery is hosting an exceptional international artist who has garnered acclaim in many art centres and auction houses. The exhibition proves that Wolfe von Lenkiewicz has been able to step back from the general, standard cliché and break free from concepts of numbing theories about linear evolution, and with new perspective he has enriched the contemporary painting scene in a significant and original way. His approach not only offers new opportunities in the field of creative art, but represents a fascinating challenge for philosophers and art theorists
image: Wolfe Von Lenkiewicz: Paintings: Galerie Miro, Prague, installation view.
MIRO Gallery in the church of St. Rochus Galerie MIRO v kostele sv. Rocha
Strahovské nádvoří 1/132
CZ 118 00 Prague 1
Tel.: +420 233 354 066
Fax: +420 233 354 074
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