Jerzy Kubina

Galerie Louis XIV

Formerly a chapel, this gallery was an appropriate venue for Jerzy Kubina’s show, “Ikonostas” ( Iconostasis). An emerging Polish-born artist currently living in New York, Kubina belongs to a group of young artists who fled the political and social turmoil of the ’80s in Eastern Europe to settle in the West.

Kubina’s recent works, usually monumental, three-dimensional paintings—often diptychs or triptychs—on unprimed canvas and tar paper visibly stapled to wooden stretchers, were all entitled Ikonostax and consecutively numbered. In keeping with their titles—an iconostasis is a partition with doors that divides the sanctuary in an Eastern Orthodox Church from the rest of the church upon which icons are displayed—the works of Kubina are meant to be icon and partition at the same time.

Despite their titles, Kubina’s works are stripped of the iconography traditionally associated with religious art. His heavily textured abstract images, painted in thick yellow, brown, and black hues and covered with sand, graphite, and dust, look like inflected, oozing wounds, like calloused skin bearing the signs and scars of suffering. They communicate corrosion, decay, and discord; but, like holy icons, also attempt to address something essential. In order to intensify the experience of pain depicted in his works, the artist placed a wooden structure inside several of them that pushed the canvas and stretched it to its limits, as if they too were in danger of being torn apart by a destructive inner force.

Clearer references to religious subjects appeared only in a few of the artist’s sculptures and drawings, which in their complementary relationship to the paintings transformed the exhibition into a kind of installation. Kubina accentuated the tension between a standard approach to religious subject matter and his interpretation of it in two contemplative and harmonious works. One was a wooden sculpture built of three slender vertical “canoes” covered with graphite and half-enclosed in a curved plastic screen—perhaps a representation of the Trinity. In another work—a large floor piece made of small, wooden, drawerlike boxes—the center was arranged in a cross with several ink drawings of the face of a ghostly Christ figure.

As much iconoclast as icon maker, Kubina has a penchant for theatricality that recalls Polish experimental theater, represented by such groups as Jerzy Grotowski’s Laboratory and Taduesz Kantor’s Cricot 2. However, in his search for contemporary icons, Kubina remains, above all, a product of his Catholic upbringing in Poland and his experience of exile: he perceives reality through, what Julio Cortazar once called, the “busy hand of dark remembrance.”

Marek Bartelik