It's been 12 years since then-emerging Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie got an opportunity to have a solo exhibition at Antwerp-based Tim Van Laere Gallery. In the meantime, following an acclaimed presentation at Venice Biennale in 2015, Ghenie became an art world's favorite, and it's great to see him back for his 5th solo exhibition with the gallery with 9 new paintings and 3 charcoal drawings that continue his journey through contemporary neo-expressionism.

Over the years Ghenie’s work has focused on the human figure, not heralded and muscular or rosey and delicate, but with what he describes as a growing dysmorphic behavior, a reflection of our obsession with the body, preserving and denying its nature. By depicting his subjects as gnawed, slashed, blurred, or blinded he portrays the imagery within, fragile, exposed, and often sinister at the same time. Over the years his interest has expanded into depiction of the surrounding forces, while his visual language has developed towards an abstraction that he feels presents a more valid assessment.  In that space he creates veritable hallucinations that radiate rawness and emotion. The new complex landscapes often engulf his subjects, with bold gestures creating a unique dynamic and dialogue between the elements. It's this relationship between the two that "challenge us to reflect on the human aspect behind the mystical stories of our collective memory." 


His exceptionally rich, exuberant paintings are the result of applying multiple layers of paint by direct manipulation with a palette knife, using stencils, slamming and scraping, and moving all of it around the surface, a process partly driven by the idea of depicting the tumult, fervor (angst, you name it) that creates life. Unlike most documents or images that aim to reflect human history, Ghenie's work is meant to create and preserve the physicality of the moment, and in so doing, draws out the blood, sweat and tears, a universal vulnerability we are experiencing during climate crisis, and incidentally, a global pandemic outbreak.

That said, the work doesn't solely reflect a current state, as much as it expands on Ghenie's earlier works and concepts. Utilizing his profound knowledge of human history, he creates alternative visions of both obscure historical narrative, as well as personal discovery in his own series of distinctive self-portraits. In the show, he combines aspects from the history of Nazi Germany with Greek mythology in Medusa, 2020, interweaves his own figure with an art historical charge in Self-Portrait with Picassoesque Background, 2020 and reinterprets the work of Henri Rousseau in Untitled (After Henri Rousseau), 2020. —Sasha Bogojev 

All images are Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp