Kristina Jansson

Galerie Aronowitsch

Two of the thirteen paintings in Kristina Jansson’s captivating exhibition take their titles from Mensch und Sonne, Hans Surén’s 1924 book of photographs that campaigned for the utopist benefits of a nudist life. These monumental paintings are architectural scenes of an interior and an exterior conceivably from the same sanctuary for pleasure-seeking. Both the sun-drenched exterior and the murky indoors show Jansson’s persuasive ability to paint with a mixed bouquet of opulence and decadence. With this conceit of hedonism in full play, Surén helps Jansson with the heavy lifting. A former officer in the German Army, undoubtedly influenced by his colonial service in the tropics, Surén used his camera to re-create scenes from the naked and blithe life of Germanic tribes prior to their contact with the more reticent Christian civilization. His pictures present oiled Aryan sun worshippers gaily dancing in foaming surf, cheerily harvesting the fields, or striking poses that bloom rococo musculature.

Mensch und Sonne (all works 2005) is a poolside view from within a compound whose architectural centerpiece, a panoptical aluminum cylinder festooned with eight protruding tubes, is as inconspicuous as a UFO landing on a Case Study House. From all appearances the compound is deserted—presumably because everyone is out of doors indulging in freestyle nudism. The stark interior, with its modernist furniture, is a page torn from Wallpaper. Jansson’s painting style is a succulent and visceral affair where lush color and brushwork provide pure luxe. But against this she incites tension with drips that trickle and ooze with decay and dread.

At first Mensch und Sonne II seems to show the shadowy hideout for one of James Bond’s antagonists, until it becomes clear you're standing before the nub of an aging sexual scoundrel’s empire, a silly pleasure dome with all the trimmings: round bed, mirrored ceiling, mood lighting. Your initial disorientation is total because Jansson has hung her picture upside down—another signal of distress in a world gone awry. Jansson’s talent for ominous scene setting might satisfy the artistic ambitions of many painters, but not her own. Her exceptionally painted but eerie imagery allows her to spin resonating themes out of jarring contexts.

Against her own portentous views from the realm of the liberated life Jansson sets Surén’s naive devotion to nudism, registering fresh perspective on our own world made unstable by empire building. In Germany, nudism was generally accepted by society when Surén’s book appeared, but it became verboten in 1933 after Hermann Göring declared the practice a threat to German culture and morality. Political expediency ultimately led the Nazi Party to reconcile themselves to German nudists, permitting exercise in the nude as one physical manifestation of the Blut und Boden ideology. Surén’s zenith came when Mensch und Sonne was republished to celebrate the 1936 Olympic Games, a constructed reality of natural supremacy. Jansson’s art is far more expansive than it may first appear. On the one hand, she uses Surén as her touchstone to paint pictures of a social and cultural elite infringing sexual mores, as if savoring the flavor of dystopia Göring read into Mensch und Sonne, but on the other hand, she capitalizes on Surén to shrewdly reflect on the way reality can be manufactured to assuage a constituency. This could seem too knotty a reading of her pictures were we not living in a world where an adviser to the US president can boast: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Ronald Jones