New York

Adam Cvijanovic

Richard Anderson Fine Arts

Adam Cvijanovic’s installation was a delightful surprise: at once a visual pleasure and a commentary on the politics of viewing. The artist compiled an impressive series of representational paintings that borrow heavily from the Romantic tradition. But the work is hardly pastiche; rather, it attempts to reconcile theories of the nature and purpose of art with its seductive properties.

In the tiny storefront gallery, painted bright white, 18 delicate, grisaille paintings of erupting volcanoes ranged across the walls, forming a large and colorful imaginary landscape, complemented by a painting of a volcano over the entry door, and another of a black odalisque in a gilt frame. Suspended in midair by pulleys cantilevered with buckets of whitewash, the latter piece was enclosed in a tent of gauzy white silk with slits that allowed the viewer to enter this private space and walk on the handcrafted, parquet floor.

All of the paintings were handsome, and the superimposition of white silk on the completed oil paintings—made from vintage photographs of the volcanic explosions—gave the grisailles an added depth. The grain of the silk lent these oil paintings the look of mezzotints: photography, painting, and printmaking all seem to have been combined. The indeterminacy of the medium kept one from being seduced by the subject matter; the layer of silk leading one back to the piece at the center of the gallery, as if to give material form to the art-historical memory that governs how we view a work of art. These images, all of roughly the same thing (an erupting volcano), traffic in nostalgia; through repetition, Cvijanovic makes us aware of our desire to be engulfed by it.

Similarly, neither the odalisque nor the Romantic landscape is to be taken without a dose of irony; though technically accomplished and fascinating in detail, each is just a little overblown, tottering between the sublime and the ridiculous. This installation was about how one can be misled by a pleasurable response to art: pleasure involves us in illusion, makes us behave irresponsibly; illusion encourages exploitation in the form of racism, sexism, and imperialism. This installation, then, took a smart, critical look at the price humanity pays for its pleasures, at our uneasy commerce with the traditions of art history, many of which, though at odds with our politics, still seduce us.

Justin Spring