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Notable Shows :
Winkleman Gallery :
Yevgeniy Fiks, "Ayn Rand in Illustrations"
621 West 27th St, New York, NY 10001
(Nearest subway: 23rd St Station via C or E trains.)
June 18 - July 30, 2010.
Taking a small thing and changing it into a gigantic thing has a certain power, a new energy. Call it the Claes Oldenburg trick or the Jumbotron effect ---whatever. Something about inflating the tiny ---is powerful. So it is with the book pages which Artist Yevgeniy Fiks has scaled up to a more monumental-feeling two-and-a-half feet tall as framed works on paper for his solo show, "Ayn Rand in Illustrations," at Winkleman Gallery.
For those aware of history, there is a whole secondary level of meaning to Fiks’ creations. However, even without such background, the text on each page (meticulously hand-lettered in black ink) makes connections to the illustrations on each page.
Fiks’ Atlas Shrugged, Page 966 shows a rural landscape with a girl cradling a book in her arm. She has Asiatic features. She wears a kerchief and neat clothing reminiscent of a school uniform. She might be a Red Guard recruit. She might be at a Young Pioneers socialist scout camp. She might be the daughter of intellectuals or kulaks relocated to a collective farm or re-education center (and at times one can't help thinking, maybe also a Nisei arriving at a U.S. wartime internment camp). One doesn't quite know, and perhaps such ambiguity pleases the artist who has long-criticized blind obedience to any political regimes ---whether socialist or capitalist, "theirs" or "ours." Born in Soviet Russia, Fiks knows propaganda when he sees it. His artwork is an ongoing response to it.
The text on Atlas Shrugged, Page 966 says:
When the thugs of Europe's People's States snarl that you are guilty of intolerance, because you don't treat your desire to live and their desire to kill you as a difference of opinion--- you cringe and hasten to assure them that you are not intolerant of any horror. How dare you be rich ---you apologize and beg him to be patient and promise him you'll give it all away.
And what of the girl? Is she an oppressor or someone about to be repressed herself? Is she maybe just a powerless bystander? By leaving us wondering, the artist makes the picture more intriguing.
Most of the artwork directly (and purposefully) revives the old Socialist Realist style. For the art-historically deprived: Socialist Realism was that academic, vaguely-neoclassical propaganda poster art so popular in the USSR and its satellites, in Maoist China, in North Korea, and at times in Nazi Germany. Picture those murals of clean healthy peasants so exuberantly harvesting the bountiful produce of the glorious regime, or maybe the muscular and determined factory workers so inspired by hearing the leader’s speech ---or even (in its own odd way) Norman Rockwell’s idealized world Scouting images. Occasionally Socialist Realism aped Impressionism, but generally it favored more polished realistic technique.
The artist told the author:
In (the) Ayn Rand in Illustrations project, in each drawing, a Soviet painting or sculpture is juxtaposed with a fragment from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. So each drawing consists of an image and text. As to the images, they are heroic, idealized, romanticized, designed as propaganda for the Soviet State. The point of this project is the absence of contradiction on the level of aesthetics between Soviet Socialist Realism and (the Capitalist utopia of) Ayn Rand's prose ...which are supposed to be two opposite belief systems. This paradox makes the work.
Fiks' Atlas Shrugged, Page 1069 pictures a classic Socialist Realist sculpture which looks somewhat like either a bookend from a commissar's office or like a statue from the Zaliasis Tiltas (Green Bridge) of Vilnius ---where 1950’s Soviet sculptures like the bronze Construction and Industry by Bronius Vyšniauskas still stand. Fiks appropriated and redrew images from old books and magazines ---his Atlas Shrugged, Page 339 even reproduces the original artist’s 1937 signature. Atlas Shrugged, Page 790 almost seems to be channeling a Labor Front broadside by Ben Shahn. From picture to picture, the styles vary somewhat ---from graytone washes with charcoal on white backgrounds (pages 103, 207, 225, 262, 868, and 966), to pen-and-ink black/white monochrome (page 104), to darker images (pages 29, 63, 418, and 617). Unifying all are: 1) the crisp white spaces, 2) the page numbers which visually-anchor the lower portions of each image, and 3) the implied two-squares-within-one-rectangle design. At times the latter can evoke Mark Rothko's squares; other times, the most extreme white-canvas Minimalism comes to mind.
One also might start musing about books and papers generally ---books which inspire revolutionaries or which get burned by them; bureaucratic documents with which planners call into being ideal cities, or gulags, or modernizations, or corporate hostile takeovers, or defense contracts. Linger long enough in the gallery and, mentally, the “War on Poverty”, a “Five Year Plan”, the “Great Leap Forward”, and the “Just Say ‘No’” campaign might all blend together.
The artist told the author:
Many projects that I've produced deal with the post-Soviet dialog in the West, with interconnections between Soviet and American historical narratives in the 20th century. This project is special because I think it captures the complexities of the Soviet-American dichotomy in a very personal manner. Ayn Rand was born in Russia. I was also born in Russia. She came to the US when she was 21. I also came to the US when I was 21. But seventy years of history separate us.
Communism and Capitalism have been vital motifs in Fiks’ artwork for years. A past Fiks exhibit at Winkleman showed present-day professional promoters of Communism posing for painted portraits at their CPUSA offices in New York City ---and seeming somewhat out-of-place advocating Revolution from behind desks and fax machines. Except for the red banners, they could have been office workers at any college, bank branch, or public utility.
Gallerist Ed Winkleman told the author that he appreciates the intellectual underpinnings of Fiks’ artwork. Indeed literary or at least Idea-based art is a mainstay at Winkleman Gallery. Winkleman’s is among the half-dozen or so galleries which have recently taken-over ground floor spaces in Chelsea’s gigantic brick Terminal Warehouse / Terminal Stores building on 11th Avenue across from the luxury car dealership. The galleries are along the narrow cobblestoned 27th Street side (affectionately nicknamed “Art Alley” in some circles). The otherwise-bland raw brick façade of the TW/TS turns colorful in “Art Alley”: just past the fire-engine red moving company entrance are the blue-painted gallery storefronts.
The immediate future of Fiks’ art involves more exploration of Capitalism, Communism, and their occasional strange bumpings into one-another in the dark. Fiks told the author:
The next project is an investigation of the historical relationship between Modern Art and Communism. It's well known that Picasso, Leger, Kahlo were members of the Communist Party. I'm interested in their narratives, especially in what being a Communist meant for them as artists. And how they negotiated the issue of artistic freedom and individualism, supposedly so important in Modern Art, with the issue of political commitment and collective identity.
Moscow-born Yevgeniy Fiks has lived in New York City since the mid-1990's. His art has appeared at the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Biennale of Sydney, at the State Museum of Russian Political History in St. Petersburg, and elsewhere.
Ward is an artist and occasional writer for “The New York Art World.”
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Installation view of Artist Yevgeniy Fiks' exhibit "Ayn Rand in Illustrations" at Winkleman Gallery. Photo: Terry Ward.
Soviet-era example of classic Socialist Realism, the Zaliasis Tiltas Statues in Vilnius. Photo: Terry Ward 2010 edit of 2007 Mark A. Wilson [web] original.
Yevgeniy Fiks, Atlas Shrugged, Page 1069. 2010, watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper. 30" x 17.5" (76 x 45 cm) Photo: Winkleman Gallery.
Yevgeniy Fiks, Atlas Shrugged, Page 868. 2010, watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper. 30" x 17.5" (76 x 45 cm) Photo: Winkleman Gallery.
Yevgeniy Fiks, Atlas Shrugged, Page 225. 2010, watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper. 30" x 17.5" (76 x 45 cm) Photo: Winkleman Gallery.
Yevgeniy Fiks, Atlas Shrugged, Page 78. 2010, watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper. 30" x 17.5" (76 x 45 cm) Photo: Winkleman Gallery.
Detail view of hand-drawn book text by artist Yevgeniy Fiks. Photo: Terry Ward.
Street view of Chelsea's massive brick Terminal Warehouse / Terminal Stores
building ---with cobblestoned "Art Alley" of 27th Street visible at lower left. Photo: Terry Ward.
Street view of Chelsea's cobblestoned "Art Alley" of 27th Street along the Terminal Warehouse / Terminal Stores building ---with galleries in blue-painted storefronts. Photo: Terry Ward.
Small portion of the opening night crowd at Artist Yevgeniy Fiks' exhibit "Ayn Rand in Illustrations" at Winkleman Gallery. Photo: Terry Ward.
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