I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that most people don't associate the term "hooligans" with fine art, Chelsea galleries, or the history of painting. But, it turns out that some do cause The Hooligans is the title of Adrian Ghenie's fourth solo exhibition with Pace Gallery that just opened, only a few months after his last solo show with Tim Van Laere in Antwerp. Comprising of nine paintings and three drawings, the body of work further explores abstracting figures, layering shapes, and using gestural painting techniques to create complex visuals that evoke historical narratives while referencing the relevant contemporary culture elements.

Continuing our series of features covering the latest shows by some of the most established names in contemporary painting, Ghenie's Hooligans is a presentation that is entirely focused on painting as a medium. Directly influenced by Impressionist painters, as well as J.M.W. Turner, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin, this body of work celebrates the historical "troublemakers" that changed the direction of painting with their practice. "The hooligan inside the artist will not allow the soul to dry with pure intellect," the artist stated in an elaborate assertion that is accompanying the press release for the show. "It is a vital force that translates into an ability to rebel, reject, ignore, or mock while staying away from ideological hate or fundamentalism. How else can I see the Impressionists or Turner, Van Gogh or Gauguin, if not as monuments to this quality?" Armed with his improvised painterly tools, mostly large scale canvases, and a wide range of pigments and hues, Ghenie metaphorically climbs onto the fence of the art world in an effort to stir up other painters to demolish the current norms and standards and once again push the medium into a new direction.

Putting the emphasis on the technical aspect of painting and the boundless possibilities it allows, and removing the content aside as secondary, Berlin-based artist is expressing his concern about the medium through this show. "Twenty years ago, I saw the surface, the skill, the prettiness. Now I see the energy behind this, the violence," he explains how this shift came to be. And his signature amalgamation of vigorous, expressive paint application and subtle references to modern life and street culture turned out to be a perfect language for demonstrating such an attitude. The images are certainly dominated by the abstracted figures which regularly dissolve into slabs of scrapped, smeared, rubbed off paint that constructs their surreal surroundings. Yet, in between those forceful and determined marks, he conceals realistically rendered details such as sneakers, hats, shirts, as well as VR goggles and security cameras, making his work undoubtedly contemporary and relevant. To some extent evoking the ambiance or the tonal language of the socialist realism work from his native Romania, Ghenie's imagery is a result of his interest both in darkest chapters of history, painting, and the dynamics of the present-day world. With such concerns and sources of inspiration, he is continuously working towards amplifying the painting’s optical and material qualities and the prominence of ways of manipulation that are rarely, if ever, involving the use of a traditional brush. —Sasha Bogojev

Installation view of Adrian Ghenie: The Hooligans 
540 West 25thStreet, New York 
November 20, 2020–January 16, 2021 
Photography courtesy of Pace Gallery