(georgiatoday.ge) It has taken curator Irena Popiashvili, Rector of Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, a year and a half to pull together the eclectic, multifarious and utterly up-to-date collection of paintings, photographs, and sculpture that can be seen in “Reframing the 80s: Georgian Art at the end of the 80s and Beginning of the 90s” at the National Gallery of Art through November 20. Groundbreaking, it is Georgia’s first show devoted to the work of a single generation.
“This was the first generation to see Joseph Beuys and other German artists as contemporaries,” explained Popiashvili. “Earlier artists looked at the Impressionists.”
Niko Lomashvili’s diptych “14 Shots” was produced in 1990, at a time when violence in Tbilisi made it something of a combat zone. On the left we see a canvas saturated with brown paint and punctured by fourteen bullet holes, only two of which are at dead center. On the right: a very young girl in a loose-fitting, tattered denim jacket, staring down at a handgun clutched at waist level, and surely intent on some dark business.
If reminded of Gerhard Richter’s 1988 photorealist paintings of the Red Army Faction, we may imagine that it is Ulrike Meinhof as an adolescent revolutionary.
The political turbulence of the era is also reflected in Gia Dolidze’s large painting, “Africa” (1989). Scattered across the canvas are images of the African menagerie – giraffe, rhinoceros, alligator, lizard – but at the lower left is a military mangaudily bedecked with medals, above him is a larger and more ominous soldier, apelike in countenance, and with the unruly, bulging hairstyle ofMuammar Gaddafi, while elsewhere on the perimeter of the painting are totemic images redolent of traditional African art.
In the mid-1990s Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was finally translated into Georgian, and the diptych “Erendira” (1996) shows that Mamuka Tsetskhladze was impressed; Erendira is a young girl who appears in the novel, and would be forced to become a teenage prostitute in a later work by the author.
Tsetskhladze’s bare-breasted Erendira gazes at us as unabashedly as Manet’s Olympia, her mouth sensuous with red lipstick. Opposite in the diptych, though, a collage-like work, thick black horizontal and vertical lines meeting at right angles mirror perhaps too closely for comfort what Frank Stella was doing early in his career.
Literature of the era crops up again in Karlo Kacharava’s “H All Awed Be” (1989), a painting in which are written lines from the Georgian translation of Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl,” though the connection to the primary subject of the painting – an elegant, sophisticated young woman, chicly dressed and coiffed, pensive, legs crossed, with long-fingered hands resting upon her right thigh – may be enigmatic.
Lurking behind her, spying ominously from over her right shoulder, is a satanic creature with a Ku Klux Klan-like cross sprouting from his forehead, while to the woman’s left a somewhat surrealistic lamp with no shade bends its bulb almost close enough to her hair to singe it.
The American counterculture is evoked again in Ushangi Khumarashvili’s “Time and Happenings” (1989, mixed media on wood). Inside a frame of rough wood, Khumarashvili has produced an abstraction comprised of torn strips of canvas, splotches of paint, a windshield wiper, a long bolt, bits of wire, etc., seeming to have worked much as Robert Rauschenberg did in the days when he scavenged the streets in his Manhattan neighborhood for refuse and junk to put into his “Combines.”
In Koka Tskhvediani’s “Self-Portrait” (1992), though, the artist may have captured something of his own inimitable individuality. Portraying himself with flat ears, shaved head, hollow cheeks, and a complexion as pale as death, he gives a general impression of dour gloominess, were it not for the radiant red of his shirt and his lips, and the luminous blue of his eyes.
The bearer of a surname which resonates in Georgian history, Lado Bagrationi in “Cell” (1976) has painted himself just where the title suggests – in incarceration. During the Soviet era he refused the work that was thrust upon him, and was deemed guilty of the crime, as Popiashvili put it, of “being different.” From behind a massive door he peers forlornly out a small window, very low, at about knee level; he could be perched on a tiny stool barely adequate for a child.
At the right is shown part of the black boot and heavy leg of a jailer, while at the left a frail hand reaches out in supplication. But perhaps there is a glimpse of hope, in the form of a window at the top of painting, through which can be seen a lovely blue sky. There is a certain paradoxical duality here, as in Magritte’s “Empire of Light;” in Bagrationi’s underworld of the prison there may be perpetual despair, but recollection of the sunnier outside world of life and freedom does not cease to exist.
But while most of the Georgian artists in “Reframing the 80s” may have turned their attention outward, Irakli Maisuradze remained attuned to Georgia’s artistic tradition. In “Wolf” (1989), “Bear” (1988), and the “Untitled” (1988) painting of a gigantic dinosaur on a stroll, he uses large simple images and plenty of bold color to create beings almost docile enough for a petting zoo. In the animal kingdom of Pirosmani they might find home turf.
The above is just a sampling, though, of the delights to be seen among the well over a hundred works that Popiashvili has assembled. She wanted this exhibition to be “as contemporary now as it was then,” she said, and she has succeeded, in spades, for there is an abundance of art that could make itself at home in the galleries of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Tate Modern, or the Centre Pompidou in Paris.