Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Free Fall

[“Liberated” (2009), oil on canvas. “Master Plan,” (2009) oil on canvas. “Change,” 2009, oil on canvas.]

A grim faced man—perching precariously on a stepladder—leans forward as if to dive to the floor. A pair of women, dressed in fifties fashion, stand with their backs toward us—apparently engrossed by the black wall in front of them. A man—wearing a brown suit and fedora—lay curled in a near fetal position on the ground. Creations of the painter Mircea Suciu, these scenes are realized in muted colors devoid of detail. Respectively titled “Final Speech,” “The Abstract Painting,” and “Nightmare,” these recent and enigmatic works by Romanian artist Suciu are being presented by Slag Gallery through November 7, 2009.

Including 13 of Suciu’s recent paintings on canvas, the artist proposes, in “The Fall,” a pictorial discourse into the explorations of a disenchanted world along the lines of a novel by Albert Camus—where human order proves many times unjust and precarious. Inspired in part by the depravity of the global financial meltdown and also by the collective major atrocities of the 20th and 21st centuries, Suciu’s body of work in “The Fall” reflects his indirect approach. Whether in paintings that reference surviving women of Auschwitz or their daughters, conspiratorial mechanisms by the most privileged strata, or a seemingly innocuous trimming of a Christmas tree, Siciu brings us full circle from the sinister to the hopeful in these narrative and figurative works.

There is a profound “discourse” and “dialogue” taking place between these paintings. In “Berlin” (2009), there is reference to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall while “Christmas” (2009) undoubtedly touches on that same year’s Christmas-day summary execution in Târgovişte of wealth-hoarding Nicolae Andruţă Ceauşescu—the erratic and tyrannical dictator under whose rule Suciu spent his early years. Born during the period Ceauşescu’s megalomania, it is not surprising to find this historic sensibility in his works—fortified by absurdity, paradox, vulnerability, ambiguity, etc. One finds special strength in Suciu’s obscured figures.

With “Final Speech,” we catch a glimpse of the bewilderment of that last speech Ceauşescu gave at a mass meeting on December 21, 1989, in what is now called “Revolution Square,” where the crowd turned on him in fury over the events transpiring in Timişoara and at the otherwise heavy hand of the Securitate. At the same time, one finds the bitter satire of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film “The Great Dictator.”

In Suciu’s paintings, the American viewer can easily discern and connect with the downward economic spiral into a wage-slave, “Wal-Mart’esque” economy in which people are barely holding on while corporate powers extort tremendous sums. In these works, we get a glimpse on surviving and translating ongoing historical trauma.

Cast in the light of a report commissioned and accepted by the Romanian government in 2004 on the Holocaust, poignancy is especially palpable in Sucio’s works in which there are figurative references to the liberation of Auschwitz. That report concluded that of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bore responsibility for deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself—citing atrocities committed in Iasi, Odessa, Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Peciora as among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust. The commission resolved that Romania committed genocide against the Jews: that survival of Jews in some parts of the country did not alter that reality. Unfortunately many more atrocities were to come: Biafra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, ad nauseam.

Indeed, Suciu casts a wide net in evoking the current crisis of the financial markets—less by specific references than by a general milieu of failure and loss. Drained of color, affect, and immediacy, paintings in “The Fall” suggest a world in which satisfaction of desires—the churning force of capitalist economies—has become little more than an impossible fantasy or a bygone memory. As such, these paintings express a great paradox. Two economic systems—once separated by the “Iron Curtain” and framed as polar opposites—are revealed as two sides of the same coin. Equally bankrupt and permeated with empty promises, the world they’ve bequeathed is bereft of warmth and hope. Like Camus’ novel of the same name, Suciu’s works explore themes of innocence, complicity, guilt, and freedom within the framework of human existence and the utter fruitlessness and vanity of nihilism.

“The Fall”: Mircea Suciu

@ Slag Gallery

Through November 7, 2009

531 West 25th Street, NYC 10001

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