New York

Adam Cvijanovic

Richard Anderson Fine Arts

Adam Cvijanovic’s Monument Valley, 1999, is a full-gallery installation, a floor-to-ceiling, seventy-six-and-a-half-foot-long landscape painting spanning four walls, ostensibly portraying the desert terrain where Arizona meets Utah, a region familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Hollywood Western. This handpainted rendition of an exterior region meant to be experienced as interior art recalls the popular cycloramas of the nineteenth century, which afforded spectators three-hundred-and-sixty-degree painted vistas of a given landscape. But unlike a typical panorama, there is no seamless narrative or comprehensive view. Cvijanovic’s eclectic approach to his subject suggests another nineteenth-century precedent, the exotic wallpapers of Jean Zuber, who evoked colonial scenes and foreign locales without being overly concerned with historic, ethnic, or topographic accuracy. At the same time, Cvijanovic’s selective presentation of detail also conjures the large-scale color photographic wallpapers sometimes used by low-end commercial decorators to brighten basement cafeterias and rumpus rooms with high-intensity images of “nature.”

Cvijanovic is a self-taught painter in midcareer whose work until now has consisted of repertorial landscapes that describe the changing face of America. His evocation of Monument Valley is an imaginary one, with panels simultaneously depicting the Hoover Dam, dancing Hopis and Navajos, John Ford shooting the 1956 film The Searchers, saguaro cactus forests, and desert highways stretching off into the far distance. Like Hollywood, which has historically reformulated desert locales—mixing the buttes of Monument
Valley with the salt flats of Nevada, say—to suit its needs for rugged, monumental, or romantic scenery, Cvijanovic blends the actual and fantastical. But with his behind-the-scenes view of Ford’s moviemaking, Cvijanovic exposes the mechanisms of that reformulation: In his version a group of Native Americans, juxtaposed with crewmen holding cameras, lights, and ladders, are revealed as actors on a set.

Cvijanovic even takes things a step further, inviting others to get in on his redefinition of the natural world: The forty-six latex-house-paint-on-Tyvek panels are ingeniously composed so that the work can be reconstructed to include whichever scenes or landscape elements one prefers, in whatever order one likes. Monument Valley will be reproduced in an edition of ten (the question of whether the artist will paint each version after tracings of the original or have them printed like wallpaper has been left open-ended), and the series of ten will only be considered complete when each work in its entirety has been successfully placed in a private home, a museum, or another environment, at which point Cvijanovic will document its installation in photographs.

Monument Valley might seem too clever, were it not so well-executed. Despite a strangely muted palette of sandy beiges, grayish blues, and faded greens and the dry, flat nature of the medium, Cvijanovic creates compelling imagery. With this work, he appears as a natural successor to Eric Fischl; or better yet, Eric Fischl mixed with a little Mark Tansey, as Cvijanovic’s take on the American scene is more cerebral, less confrontational than Fischl’s fantasies of consumption and possession played out against suburban backyards and beaches. Cvijanovic’s American landscape is a place of exalted and iconic beauty that we cut and paste to suit our own personal desires: American wallpaper for American Dreams.

Justin Spring