Louisa Gagliardi, Apples and Oranges, 2020, ink and gel medium on PVC, 70 7⁄8 × 44 1⁄8".

Louisa Gagliardi, Apples and Oranges, 2020, ink and gel medium on PVC, 70 7⁄8 × 44 1⁄8".

Louisa Gagliardi

A funny thing happened on my way to see Louisa Gagliardi’s exhibition “Raincheck”: I got lost in my own city. I’m born Warsovian, but the urban environment changes incredibly quickly. The district of Wola in western Warsaw, where Galeria Dawid Radziszewski is located, used to be industrial and working-class, but skyscrapers and office blocks seem to have been erected almost overnight, leaving just snippets of the old streetscape between them. The gallery is located in a cluster of new luxury “yuppiedrome” tower blocks and in trying to find it one could easily enter a gym, a beauty salon, or a property developer’s office by mistake. It is so common these days for art to be sandwiched between these areas of upper-class life, of money and the cult of the body. But given the content of Gagliardi’s work, the surrounding environment seemed as if it could be part of the social critique the artist was delivering.

In any case, these Ballardian premises turned out to be the perfect introduction to Gagliardi’s art, which condenses the past and the future (but mostly the future) in complex yet eloquent images, as if she were trying to understand what painting could become in a dystopian tomorrow. The exhibition included eight works, all with similarly alienating and unreal imagery of coalescing inner and outer landscapes. Gagliardi creates her paintings directly in Photoshop. The artist sees a certain romanticism in errors, but what can appear in her work as an “error” is always calculated, as she saves previous versions and can always take a step back. I still wondered though, whether what I saw could have resulted from her having lost control over the medium in any way. She prints the images on large-format PVC sheets and, to bring out structure and give them body, covers them with gel medium mixed with ink, or sometimes left transparent. She also often uses cheap nail polish, which can explain the distinctive palette of intense Day-Glo orange, red, and green. The glazed surface adds an oddly aerosol-like texture to the already obscure and unattainable objects and persons in her paintings. The final images often seem “unreal,” inducing dizziness and vertigo and the vague sensation that one’s eyes hurt as they do after one has been staring at a screen all day.

Something decidedly creepy is going on in this work. It displays the artist’s virtuoso ability to create discomfort and brings us to the edge of the uncanny. Gagliardi’s are afterimages, things that you have seen in the past and that come back to you in dreams or amid the noise of media overstimulation. The sinister rabbits with radiating red eyes in Follow the White Rabbits (all works 2020) are the stuff of horror movies, yet they are really only slightly twisted from something you might find in a comforting children’s book. The image gives a sense of mesmerizing mystery: What is the boy sitting on the grass in Apples and Oranges doing, glancing at us from his reflection inside of a big pot? And whose hand is there at the sink? Later, I began to think that the hand might also have been that of the same boy—that he was somehow both inside and outside at once. To solve such a scene’s meaning would be like psychoanalytically explaining a dream. But Gagliardi’s paintings don’t seem to mock us for being unable to solve their riddles. Immersed in their own musings, they are far too sad and self-involved for that.

Stylistically, these works show affinities with those of some of Moscow’s late-Soviet-era nonconformist painters, such as Erik Bulatov, Ilya Kabakov, and, most of all, Oleg Tselkov. Their ironic art reflected the disruption and atrophy behind the late Soviet empire’s image of itself. In scratching at the surface of late capitalism’s self-image, Gagliardi shows herself to be similarly perceptive. When you dig beneath the surface, you find only more surface.