Critics’ Picks

Bauhaus Cathedral DIY, 2007–2008, wood, acrylic, and shell, 10' 2“ x 2' 3 1/2” x 3' 3 3/8".


Kostis Velonis

Monitor | Rome
via Sforza Cesarini 43a Palazzo Sforza Cesarini
January 14–February 29

The inconspicuous How One Can Think Freely in the Shadow of a Temple, 2007, appears almost as an afterthought to Kostis Velonis’s current exhibition. The Tarkovskian “sculpture in time” is a video loop of a magazine tear-out from the 1960s hung from a clip on the wall of Velonis’s studio. A breeze from a nearby window periodically flutters the page, interrupting the camera’s fixed stare on the image, which depicts two youths engrossed in dialogue before ruins of a Greek temple.

Despite its apparent modesty, the video encapsulates Velonis’s poetry in a nutshell. Both matter-of-fact and nostalgic, it ironizes the failure of revolutionary ideologies while concurrently celebrating the quixotic leaders of ill-fated avant-gardes. The current exhibition focuses on Velonis’s recent series “Craft Boy,” 2007–: three sculptures exploring the modern myth of craftsmanship as the heralded savior of a world invaded by industrial objects. Bauhaus Cathedral DIY and Craft Made the Universe, both 2007–2008, seem to comprise merely recycled materials thrown together into rough abstractions, but further observation reveals figurative elements and, on the wooden planks that make up the totems, partially exposed layers of color that lend a rich luminosity to the black acrylic topcoat. Found objects like a decorative wooden box and a ceramic doe are transfigured by other “crafty” interventions: The former is resurfaced with leaf-shaped cutouts of wood-grain laminate; the latter is covered in an armor of salvaged wood chips.

Posted on Velonis’s blog in November, an article by Marina Warner begins, “Writers don’t make up myths; they take them over and recast them.” Velonis recasts the Bauhaus craftsman, a relic of modernity’s central political principle the people, into the contemporary “craft boy,” one of the wanderers and fugitives that Warner identifies as the mythic figures of our era. Indeed, it is the many “with no home” that semiologist Paolo Virno references in his use of Spinoza’s term multitude to analyze changes in political identity after the death of the state. As a representative of this contemporary nomadic condition, the craft boy skips from the collective to the individual imagination without hesitation, mining anywhere and everywhere for refuge from the inescapable anguish of in-betweenness.