Critics’ Picks

Anna Andrzhhievskaya, Dawn, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 79 × 71".

Anna Andrzhhievskaya, Dawn, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 79 × 71".


Anna Andrzhievskaya

Triumph Gallery
Ilyinka St., 3/8, building 5
August 6–August 29, 2021

Zerograd, the USSR’s unsuccessful submission to the 1989 Academy Awards, tells the story of a Moscow factory engineer who is sent on a bureaucratic errand to a small town deep in the bowels of the Soviet empire only to find himself stuck in a nightmare of Kafkaesque absurdity: His own head is served to him as cake, the town’s top chef commits suicide, all the secretaries are naked, and going back home is never again an option. I first saw Zerograd at a disconcertingly early age, and the dark phantasmagoria of the film’s coupling of a surrealist dystopia with the bleakness of a high-rise-studded Stalinist setting has haunted me to this day. 

Zerograd was the first thing that came to my mind after seeing Anna Andrzhievskaya’s Sphinx 1, 2020, with its modernist apartment block hovering behind a gigantic red eyeball outfitted with lobsterlike claws. This is just one among the myriad of more or less explicitly Boschian creatures that crowd Andrzhievskaya’s canvases: flying octopuses, storks in ruby slippers, fishing dogs, and googly-eyed cobras. In On My Way, 2021, these beasts appear alongside a disembodied plaster head; in Dawn, 2021, amid a landscape of industrial waste and power stations. The vibrant colors of their hides highlight the sharp contrast to the murky grounds of unprimed canvas. Unlike either Bosch or Zerograd, however, the phantasmagoria here is declawed and domesticated—a sign, perhaps, that contemporary imagination can no longer sustain the true horror of dystopian fantasy, opting instead for the anything-and-everything-all-of-the-time emoji overload.

This may be a symptom of a modern pathology, but it also comes across as exorcism, an indulgence in the visually delectable to override what is most haunting. And it seems to work: Instead of feeling retraumatized, I left simply amused.