Andrei Molodkin, Yes We Can . . . Fuck You, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Andrei Molodkin, Yes We Can . . . Fuck You, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Andrei Molodkin

Galleria Pack

Andrei Molodkin, Yes We Can . . . Fuck You, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

At the Fifty-Third Venice Biennale, Andrei Molodkin, a Russian-born artist living in Paris, made a splash with his installation Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black), 2009. Displayed in the Russian pavilion, it revealed the artist’s signature approach—encasing a hollow sculptural object in an acrylic block and filling it up with crude oil. For this installation he made two miniature replicas of the Louvre’s Nike of Samothrace, adding pumps that pushed crude oil and blood through them. Red and black images of the sculpture were projected full-size onto a wall using small video cameras. Molodkin’s wall text stated that the oil was Chechen, and the blood belonged to a veteran of the Chechen War, turning the installation into a revolt against the post-Soviet cultural establishment’s disengagement from political discourse. Sure enough, the pavilion’s curator scrapped the inscription at the opening.

Molodkin’s “drilling” of geopolitical blunders does not stop with his native country. In “Sincere,” his third show in Milan, he at times subtly but often aggressively confronted methods of ideological seduction and deception, as well as drew attention to increasingly blurred concepts of global sociocultural politics. The fact that Galleria Pack shares a courtyard with a music school helped Molodkin establish the show’s deconstructive agenda. The oil pumps that the artist uses to flood oil into his sculptures, and which have sheltered his production from easy commodification, were here installed at the gallery’s entrance. Their recurrent bombastic noise drowned out the sounds of soothing classical music that drifted in from the musicians’ practice rooms.

The pumps activated the centerpiece of this show, Yes We Can . . . Fuck You, 2011, a multimedia installation consisting of two- and three-dimensional works and of oil-filled plastic hoses, configured into a swirl on the floor. On the wall hung Barack Obama’s once-hypnotizing slogan, YES WE CAN, rendered in capital letters formed out of white negative spaces in a blue ground of precise and tight linear pattern, executed in ballpoint pen. This laborious handmade reiteration of Obama’s ready-made catchphrase was neighbor to a freestanding acrylic block encasing the phrase FUCK YOU, with crude oil seeping through each of its letters. The juxtaposition of these phrases evoked a shift from utopia to dystopia in which the time span between a promise and its collapse becomes unprecedentedly short. The show was inaugurated the day after Obama’s announcement of his run for a second term; thus when the deafening sound of the pump raised the level of oil in the hollow F-word, one could not help but think of the nato air strikes in Libya and the US agenda of securing access to oil.

In a dimly lit room hung a pair of large canvases, Untitled, 2011, on each of which Molodkin had drawn—separately, with red and blue ballpoint pens, respectively—the short but laden word SIN. Each letter overlaps itself three times and is entrapped in an architecture of linear rhythms and shadings. A vertiginous effect once sought by the Futurists to disintegrate the object is here applied to assert the ongoing metamorphosis of the primal concept of sin. Molodkin’s ballpoint drawings evoke Sisyphean manual labor, whereas in his sculptures he makes full use of high technology. This makes his oeuvre a meeting point of low- and high-tech practices, a space where industrial rationality takes turns with studio incarceration. The drawings operate within a series of binary oppositions: conscious/unconscious, controlled/accidental, intuitive/mechanical, resulting in a secession of images that, in Molodkin’s words, “copy the heartbeat of the oil pump.” This is his way of simultaneously resisting and submitting to a machine, making the act a sincere contemporary schism.

Margarita Tupitsyn