Culled from far-ranging sources such as the history of cinema and the shattering events of twentieth-century extremism, Adrian Ghenie’s paintings dwell on the darker currents of modern history. His works vividly highlight the trauma and the complexity of what he terms the most “sensitive” moments of recent history, while simultaneously shifting between abstraction and figuration in his expressionistic, painterly style. Ghenie’s works operate like a memory, blurring facts and crystallizing details in equal measure.
Untitled forms part of a series of paintings inspired by the cinematic "pie fight" scene. In these paintings, Ghenie transforms a film still from a flat image into one in which, texturally, the paint reads as pie filling that has smashed into the character’s face. Ghenie’s recuperation of “snapshot comedy” films as the basis for this image funnels the comedic act into one of great pathos. In Ghenie’s painting, there is no access to the preceding events that culminate in this slapstick or goofy act. Without the build-up of comedic action, we are left to linger upon the humiliated, degraded image. This is both a material degradation of the original film still through the impastoed paint, as well as a transformation of the subject from comedic performer to pathetic victim. Accentuating this transformation, the facial features have been rubbed out; this is a characterization, rather than a portrait of an individual. The work presents the viewer with an archetype, the intense personification of a singular emotion, rather than a rounded-out personality.
The artist has referred to paintings like Untitled as having a “Dadaist” tendency – that is, they are collisions of fact and fiction. They are jarring constructions of the familiar and the absurd, blurring details so that, individuals are erased in favor of more general portrayals.