Warsaw

Pravdoliub Ivanov, Just Because, 2011, acrylic and lacquer on cardboard, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2".

Pravdoliub Ivanov, Just Because, 2011, acrylic and lacquer on cardboard, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2".

Pravdoliub Ivanov

Pravdoliub Ivanov, Just Because, 2011, acrylic and lacquer on cardboard, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2".

The first Warsaw exhibition by Bulgarian artist Pravdoliub Ivanov was announced by the Polish word PÓŁPRAWDA, “half-truth,” whose upper portion could be read above the bridge between two parts of the apartment building in the center of the Polish capital that houses the Le Guern Gallery. This inscription, made of self-adhesive foil, is one part of a thus-titled two-element work, 1999/2011. The lower half, made of painted cardboard, was displayed on the gallery wall, so close to the ceiling that it seemed to be vanishing into it. For Ivanov, showing the word half-truth in two locations is an important way to explore public reactions to this slogan in the different contexts of the street and the art gallery. He has previously shown this installation in various countries, always in their local languages. While the outdoor installation tended to be read politically, the artist told me, the display within the gallery raised questions about text as a matter of art.

This selection of Ivanov’s works brought to the fore his commentary on the artistic heritage of the avant-garde or modernism. Never Enough, 2011, is a time-worn paper stencil of the phrase LESS IS MORE, pinned to the wall and blacked out by the phrase BUT NEVER ENOUGH written in black spray paint over it. The maxim “less is more” was attributed by Robert Browning to Andrea del Sarto, expressing the legendary faultlessness of this Renaissance artist, but it is more familiarly associated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his ideas for modernist architecture. Ivanov’s graffiti-like gesture emphasizes his skepticism toward this motto. He seems more sympathetic to the heritage of the Russian avant-garde, to which he refers in the acrylic work Just Because, 2011, painted in black. Characteristically flat geometric forms are composed in a structure somewhat familiar from Suprematist and Constructivist work. Nevertheless, the move from the rather bright palette associated with these movements to an oily black one inspires thoughts of the traumatic dimension of the first decades of twentieth-century art and politics. In white letters on the surface of the painting, Ivanov has written the maxim JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT OUT TO GET YOU. It only strengthens the grim character of the image.

In other works, such as Loaded, 2010–11, made of suitcases with their sides removed, Ivanov refers to contemporary political issues. Loaded was originally made for the show “Suspended Spaces #1: From Famagusta,” which took place in 2010 at the Maison de la Culture d’Amiens, France, and took as its inspiration the condition of the Cypriot city Famagusta, a holiday resort populated mostly by Greek Cypriots, which was attacked by Turkish military forces in 1974 and has been partly empty ever since. Ivanov’s accumulation of empty suitcases, with the material of each side cut away to leave only the frame, might remind the viewer that most of the citizens of this city did not have a chance to take their belongings with them. For Ivanov the situation of losing possessions can be both traumatic and liberating. His ability to bind together the beautiful and disturbing is what made this exhibition so intriguing.

Sylwia Serafinowicz