Critics’ Picks

Rostan Tavasiev, Rechvnich, 2016, paper, mixed media, 23 1/2 x 20".

Rostan Tavasiev, Rechvnich, 2016, paper, mixed media, 23 1/2 x 20".

Saint Petersburg

Rostan Tavasiev

Anna Nova
Zhukovskogo street, 28
March 3–April 22, 2017

It’s hard to take Rostan Tavasiev seriously as an artist, if only because for nearly two decades his medium of choice has been the stuffed animal. If myriad “love hours” imbued Mike Kelley’s mangled toys with a crude, bodily aura, the plush animals favored by Tavasiev radiate the chemical-scented clean of the disposable impulse purchase. The artist’s paintings and installations tend to operate on the level of a knock-knock joke, with a sweet, sanitized stupidity that deflects from the compositions’ darker implications. For instance, in the 2009 installation Future, a herd of tiny flame-maned giraffes appears to triumphantly lug a grand piano down a red carpet and toward a miniature door in the wall, crowned with a neon sign: FUTURE.

Tavasiev offers an equally restrictive vision of the world to come with “A Drop of Creacin.” This long, strange trip of an exhibition immerses visitors in an expanded universe, where image-making has been relegated to artificial intelligence, leaving the art world hooked on the chemical creativity-substitute, “creacin.” The scene is set through multiple mixed-media components, including a hand-drawn animation at the entrance to the gallery; Kool-Aid-colored canvases depicting habitats such as the so-calld Gartezia Gas Cloud , the site of a far-flung biennale; drawings detailing the cast of characters (among them, the requisite uber-curator, a galaxy-hopping bespectacled space-worm, who is particularly sensitive to the creacin high); and finally, a fleet of eight large oil paintings portraying various episodes in an intergalactic art career. Rendered with the same synthetic clarity as his toys, Tavasiev’s canvases retain a sense of menace despite the candy-coating of their pastel palettes. There is no sweet taste to the success here. With a vision of the future that tells us far more about the present, Tavasiev has once more made it easy to laugh at a very serious punch line.