Adrian Ghenie was born in 1977 in Baia Mare (Romania). The artist lives and works in Cluj, Berlin, and London.
The artist is inspired by 20th-century European history. Especially what happened with Communism, Nazis, all of this. According tot the artist, his generation were all losers historically, economically. There was no culture of winning. Winning under a dictatorship is to make a deal with the power, which is a moral dead end. A black hole. He realized how complicated the history of Eastern Europe is. Not only from a moral perspective, but especially from a psychological perspective. According to the artist almost everybody was, at the same time, both killer and victim.
Having grown up under Nicolae Ceausescu, Ghenie was especially interested in the contradictory ways in which history is recorded and experienced. He looked to his mother, who came of age during the height of Communism: “She lived in the worst period of the 20th century, but when Ghenie asked about it she said that it was great because it was her youth. The artist realized that people’s perspectives about history are automatically cool. According to the artist this is very sick. “They don’t care that it was the Stalin years. They just remember that they were young and they had this energy and they fell in love.”
It’s this gap between fact and subjective memory that Ghenie sought to explore through his work. The paintings the artist has made since that realization apply a dreamlike veil to historical figures and events. Faces are fuzzy; moods are grim; and surroundings are abstract, surreal, and otherwise off. When he wasn’t sure how to communicate these psychologically fraught tableaux, he says, “David Lynch came along and gave me the solution.” Hitchcock, too. The artists is inspired by cinema in terms of composition, colors and atmosphere.
Early on, Ghenie limited his palette to black and white, as in That Moment, 2007. This work features the legs of a lifeless man and woman sticking out from beneath a black couch-table hybrid; a marble statue of a classical Greek discus thrower hovers nearby. The moment in question is when Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun purportedly took their own lives as Allied forces closed in. This moment was never documented, never even confirmed, but it’s a moment that exists in everyone’s mind. The artist is fascinated by episodes of history that will never be resolved. Ghenie also knows that he will never resolve them either, but he attempts to address them.
Ghenie’s compositions have become more and more complex over the years as he’s turned increasingly toward color and abstraction to shape figures and construct space. He relies on drips, scrapes, and splatters — “staged accidents,” the artist calls them — to impart texture. He makes preparatory collages combining art historical images and documentary photographs to plot out the rest.
Ghenie created other works related to the Third Reich. “Berghof 2012” images a rendering of Hitler perched on a deck at his Alpine retreat, his jet-black comb-over and mustache are barely discernible on his abstract and bloodied face.
Watch: Adrian Ghenie started a gallery because he was a “failure”