Dnipropetrovsk. Ya Gallery Art Center
08.11.2013 – 14.12.2013
Volodymyr Kostyrko's new project in Ya Gallery art center continues the exploration of the criminal artist paradigm that demythologized the established ideal. Canvases make the viewer ask a number of questions. Tattoos, shaved heads, muscular bodies - is that Renaissance artists' real appearance, how justified are they and what they speak of? What works of art are standing behind these backs, if they can stand at all? Who is looking into our eyes and who is looking away? And finally what ethical luggage we are to acquire as we leave the exposition?
Devoid of any obstruction, from under the layers of public gossip, understanding of the messianic function of art comes out. Confidence, the source of which is found somewhere near the school desk, from time to time reanimates a teacher's white lyric full of respect and inspiration, through which fairly prosaic portrait of a perfect artist ends up in students' ears. However, its is linguistically certified that especially if a value of life is at stake each stamp (punch) must be struck with a fist (punch). That is exactly the way the project Ars Longa works, where Kostyrko makes obvious a thesis: a romanticized artist image must be demythologized.
The story starts with five artists: Pietro Perugino (1446 - 1523), Pietro Torrigiano (1472 - 1528), Benvenuto Cellini (1500 - 1571), Onorio Longhi (1568 - 1619) and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 - 1610). A certain paradigm of a criminal artist opens up through them, that, on one hand, regardless of the epoch unites the majority of personalities (from Michelangelo who aged his own sculptures, passing them off as antiquities, to Dante Gabriel Rossetti who exhumed the body of his loved one to print the poem collection put in her tomb; from Edouard Manet, who settled his disputed with critics by challenging them to duels, to Pablo Picasso who repeatedly was an accomplice in abducting works of art from the Louvre), and on the other hand - must carefully articulate the distinctions existing between them in order to reveal the multidimensionality of the phenomenon (it is insufficient only to declare the discrepancy of the myth).
Sculptor Benvenuto Cellini frankly stands out among the presented five - a serial killer and author of his own biography. Repeatedly ending up in court due to prohibited sexual behavior and theft, Cellini was accounted for three murders. Two of them (of a jeweler and a notary) forced the artist to flee from Florence to Naples, and the third one (of the jeweler who coordinated Cellini's prosecution), contrarily, returned his freedom - the new Pope Paul III issued the artist a letter that, nevertheless, deprived him of his artistic freedom: Cellini worked for the Pope until he robbed the latter's treasury. On Kostyrko's canvas Benvenuto is wrapped in champion's laurels with Mona Lisa - his eternal companion.
Pietro Perugino's biography is almost an antithesis to Cellini's life. Socially invisible craftsman, genius of his time, a little stingy and petty (but that, according to Vasari, was due to his "neo-Florence origin"), he was the teacher of Raphael Santi. Yet his face hidden behind the framing conceals a criminal past. In December 1486 Perugino together with di Angelo, a painter from Perugia, beat an unknown man to death with sticks. At the trial, Perugino received financial penalty, and his friend carried a life sentence.
Pietro Torrigiano (teacher of Michelangelo Buonarroti) was, of course, a fist fighter. He didn't need knives or sticks. The result of his best blow can be seen on Michelangelo's portraits (look at the nose), and the driving force - the powerful fist - was placed by Kostyrko on Durer's coat of arms, resulting in "The Carver Torrigiano's Coat of Arms".
The story of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Onorio Longhi invites the viewer to a XVII century Italian football game. In 1606 Rome, during a football game (that in Italy is called "calcio"), Caravaggio and his friends, architect Longhi among them, quarreled with opponents, and murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni in the fight. He was murdered by the same hand that painted "The Calling of Saint Matthew" and "Sacrifice of Isaac". Caravaggio's body is covered in Durer's tattoos: a fragment from the memorial to the peasants project on his heart and from the engraving "Melencolia" - on his abs. On Longhi's skin - a skull with brass knuckles and Art emblem with a motto Ars Longa Vita Brevis - art is eternal, life is short.
Along with the exposure of names, the question of representation that is closely linked to the history of the media and post-media painting is played out. From camera obscura to the frame from Derek Jarman's film ("Caravaggio"), it deals with a rather renaissance phenomenon - dialectic of the timeless in the fluidity of time. It is in order to conquer the incessancy, Caracci uses the technical device (one of the artifacts of the old masters' "secret knowledge", described by David Hockney), Falat "photographs" with the youth, Merettiner invests in the ideals of enlightenment (appearing in the perfect world of proportion and light in Kostyrko's work), and Ivan Trush suddenly finds and autograph. And conversely, eventually finding themselves in today's media space, artists and their works get lost in speed, and according to Bart, "gluttony" of mobile screens. Snatching something valuable from there is a difficult task that, on one hand, generates rethinking of artistic "aura" (in Benjamin's sense, for whom the phenomenon of photographing Rembrandt's canvases from television broadcasting and its further implementation in painting), on the other hand - gives birth to iconography, that subsequently ossifies and requires re-demythologization.
To proclaim: Ars Longa - is to trip over the totality of honor. "Art is eternal" - is a timeless construct with flat walls, inaccessible for any attempt to grab the surface. A lone moment breaks to pieces over it. The eternity doesn't have old and new, that's why on the territory of the New old such construct is incomplete - just like the endless pluralities in Cantor's theorems. Nominalism, that Kostyrko is a supporter and an apologist of, reveals an entirely different view, that consists of cuts and holes, of game situations, that are capable of multiplying ways of representation and perception. For Woody Allen is right: "Eternity is a long time. Especially towards the end". The proclamation of the inviolability of art stands by the differentiation of time in the experience of life's fluidity - Vita Brevis. It is not an abstract manifestation, but a credo carved into the skin, capable of reviving the beautiful at the cost of its own existence. Through the promoting units that hold the Art's emblem on their abs, the meaning of eras emerges: one that initiated the restoration of old ideals (artists of the Renaissance) and the one that found value in these attempts (New old masters).
Skinhead and muscular Renaissance and baroque artists are holding the burden of indispensability on their shoulders, the inconvertibility of the high achievements into the negation of low: the artist won't become a student of life, when his head can at any moment be cut off by a reward-seeker. Kostyrko creates a double trap for the viewer in this field. Like Caravaggio dug up a four-day corpse to accurately portray the resurrected Lazarus, Kostryko cooperates with the past to be accurate in his deals with the present. Such, seemingly, metaphorism must be controlled by a knife (according to Caravaggio, who threatened the statists with weapons so that they would hold the dead body orderly). A dagger in Caravaggio's hand doesn't symbolize a paintbrush, it is essentially a dagger. Any mystery in the connection artist-criminal is missing. Kostyrko states: "Titian painted with a sword attached to his belt. Every person needs a weapon, to be able to protect themselves, their honor and their loved ones". This is crude realism. And it is because it is this way, we have room for metaphors, looking into the present.
Having walked the path of a gallery visitor, having lost the confidence in his or her judgements, the viewer appears surrounded - in the military sense of this word. It is hard to retreat properly, because the legion standing behind the backs of artists-criminals possesses skills capable of adjusting to any maneuver. In the future, it is not you who observes the actions of Caravaggio and Longhi, but they are looking at you, exposing the blades. Perugino's guilt and shame fade into the background in the face of the danger of a hidden face, that only emphasizes the viewer's vulnerability in front of the unknown gaze. It doesn't seem possible anymore to inspiredly faint in front of Cellini's portrait, because the fists are directed at your own sides and jaws. The level of treat reaches nine. Time to respond. Or to surrender.
Only thanks to the essential properties of esthetics - emotional and included, still absolutely safe, observation - we actually leave the gallery premises. "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" lots its rights to be a guillotine at the service of totality. To give up life, but to celebrate art, is a black work, a double standard that doesn't save soul's integrity, but creates a double threat. Finally, tattoos inform not of the danger, but of the connection: fists made the foundation for the future centuries, so that the saved eyes had the space for the obvious. And the efforts of the times when the demand for works of art coexisted with the criminal search for the artists, mustn't be forgotten, only for the reason that the eternity might be lost in amnesia.
Borys Filonenko, 2013