A Review on Archi Galentzís exhibition in Berlin, February 2000 at Galerie Taube

by Mika Hannula


Picture This: Five or More Competing Pictures in This

The Russian-Armenian, in Berlin living artist Archi Galentz has clearly chosen a perplexing double-strategy as a painter. Galentzís works seem to be always doing at least two things at the same time. The pull in and the pull out motion is in-between thousands of carefully contemplated details and a single unity of a whole which becomes more than a sum of its parts.

Quite obviously, the chosen strategy, not a formal style, but an attitude, is dangerous and playful. The point is that Galentz is very much aware of the problems he deliberately invites into the frame. He knows the risks, but faces them head on, taking up the task of combining various different elements which are not presupposed to fit into the same picture. Quite funnily, it is actually exactly here where the almost endless chance of reading and rereading into his works starts. It is not only about hundreds of anecdotes, but concretely about rumble in the jungle: pictures within pictures within pictures.

At first, the complexity of the works at Galentzís exhibition in the Berlin gallery Taube might seem as a nasty complot against the viewer, leading nowhere and creating just chaos. However, more time and energy one is able to invest into the paintings, the more you are able to see the subtle nuances of the strategy. At one level, the complexity goes straight back to Galentzís own background. Thus, the combination hints at the search of putting together two or more different traditions, two or more different cultures and practices of painting. What you see is traces of Moscow, traces of Jerevan, and a great deal of it comes together under the conceptual umbrella of the city he has decided to live in: Berlin.

Another very significant level where the task of mixing and fixing is so apparent is within the tradition of painting. Here again the complexity is rather astonishing. Paintings which simultaneously hint at so many, not necessarily compatible, directions. And this creates a highly fruitful contradictions and conceptual and visual crashes. Galentz is clearly breaking rules, and reinventing them for his own purposes. Galentz, who went to school both in the former Soviet Union and in Berlin, is very much partly a product of the classical school of craftsmen. And then again, simply restating and reworking those dilemmas and questions is not enough for him.

Therefore, in simple terms, what Galentz is trying to achieve is to revisit the history of painting. The essential thing is that he is not permanently parking himself into the past. He goes in, but bounces very fast back, seeking to make and remake a critical but warm relationship within the various rich  traditions. It is not painting which desperately wants to live through its past fame, but a means of painting which tries to make an effect right here, right now. Not turning its back to history, and not denying the present. And the result at best of times is a wonderful openness of the work. An openness which functions as a heartfelt invitation for the viewer to come in and take a look. Not in order to find out what the painting is about, but what does the different elements in one painting do to one another - and how do they effect you.

One way to put a finger on the practice how Galentz changes the rules of the game, is to focus on the use of colors in his paintings. It is a use which on purpose is again filled both with alienation and welcoming, relying on the counter-play between the sentiments disgust and pleasantness. In fact, Galentz turns the tables upside down, and does exactly the opposite what the old maxim of paintings demands.

What he is supposed to do is to stage warm colors in front and cold colors in the back of the picture. Instead, there is a not so gentle slap on your face. The cold blue and the ugly brown are aggressively on the front, whereas the warm colors have been placed on the back. It leads to a use of uneven colors, a distraction of the harmony, which evidently is there but not so obviously. There is no nostalgia, but a need and wish to reflect the present sense. The scene experienced is often in Berlin, and the activity in the picture is not far from absurd. It is Hackesche HŲfe, it is Savigny Platz, but not a romantic and nice version of it, not even a crazy sexy cool version of it, but a perversely realistic version.

And this reflection takes us to yet another way the strategy of complex combination is at use in Galentzís paintings. It is fascinating that in the current show he has a painting called ĒReflektion (Stella)Ē. It is a painting worth taking a closer look at. The painting is a concrete play of images of self-portraits and portraits of different members of the artistís family. What we find within a picture is a painted self-portrait, beside it a book, a cover photo of his grand-father, a famous Armenian painter, and behind them on the TV screen is his grand-mother, who wrote the book that is on the table. And again, simultaneously, on the left side we are forced to look outside the studio. A realistic image of Berlin during fall, gray skies and trees turning yellow.

It is here that I feel the complexities of the exhibition and Galentzís strategy are running at their greatest risks, and where the artist comes out winning with huge margins. It is a painfully detailed picture of perfectly normal everyday life, combined with a direct comparison of different mediums and generations. This life, however, does not promise a rose garden, and the generation comparison does not lead to a clear-cut continuation of self-identity.

The confrontation is brutal in its nature. It is a version of reality that screams out boredom boredom boredom - all achieved with the superb use of the color blue. But it is not, in the end, blue as in blues and blue as in melancholy, but blue as in brutal realism, asking questions and opening various paths of interpretation, showing that you do not fully understand who you are and that you might as well stop pretending that you do. Instead, you should participate, join into the game of connotations and try to survive with the fragments of insecurity - with and within the paintings of Archi Galentz.

Mika Hannula

Ph.D in Political Science, the Nordic Editor of NU: The Nordic Art Review