New York

Adam Cvijanovic


During a lull that followed a brace of solo exhibitions in the early 1990s at Richard Anderson’s now-defunct New York gallery, Adam Cvijanovic found work painting decorative murals in extravagant Long Island dining rooms, retreating to his studio in the evenings and on the weekends. He had already often worked on a large scale, once exhibiting a mural-size painting of Lower East Side tenements, so bridging the conceptual gap between his day job and his night calling was largely a matter of finding a way to use trompe l’oeil effects in a truly artistic context. Enter, in 1999, Tyvek, the semiporous synthetic material used for FedEx envelopes and as a lightweight sealant in building construction.

Cvijanovic has painted on wallpaper-like rolls of this material ever since, creating epic (and portable) scenes by affixing adjoined panels directly to gallery walls. This conflation of architectural and pictorial space is often the most striking aspect of his art, transmuting walls into windows onto unexpected scenes, as he did in “Love Poem (Ten Minutes After the End of Gravity, Los Angeles),” his third solo exhibition at Bellwether. The show paired Untitled (from Love Poem), a seventy-five-foot-long panorama spread across three adjoining walls, with Iolanthe (both 2005), a smaller tondo on the ceiling of another room. The former imagines a postgravity sky littered with drifting tract homes and disgorged possessions, while the latter subjects items in his apartment to the same unusual circumstance.

While the smaller painting, despite its initially intriguing allusion to a disused traditional form, feels inconsequential, Untitled is nothing if not impressive. Cvijanovic’s handling of flashe and house paint is competently affectless, and the fanciful nature of his central conceit allows for compelling variations of scale (without the usual points of reference, soda bottles and a roasted chicken become as large as cars, and lines of houses trail off in every direction). It is easy to picture the scene in motion and envision the cookie-cutter houses circling in lazy eddies, bumping into each other gently.

Given that the exhibition opened in early September, many visitors found it difficult to avoid comparing Cvijanovic’s depiction of postapocalyptic “floating” houses to news images of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans. But while the timing was undeniably striking, it was pure coincidence, a fact emphasized by the absence from Cvijanovic’s “portable frescoes” of any trace of grief or suffering. The image is airy and carefree, its cerulean expanse suffused with Southern California’s even, warming light. This etherealness, in conjunction with the artwork’s transportability, undercuts the grandeur usually associated with murals. The neutrality of this calculated conceptual balance requires that the image itself be indelible, but the surprise of Cvijanovic’s vision dissipates quickly, and the picture itself drifts away from the tethers of memory.

The apex of popular interest in decorative murals occurred in nineteenth-century France, when they were used to bring far-flung landscapes into the homes of the rich—a form of armchair travel. It is a step forward for Cvijanovic to incorporate a broadly comparable exoticism into his work by depicting a purely imaginary situation, moving beyond the more traditional subjects to which he was previously committed. What he needs to do now is apply the lessons learned from this project by pushing more forcefully toward the fantastic.

Brian Sholis