Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Veron Urdarianu at Mitchell-Innes Nash by Sharon Servilio

Veron Urdarianu, Mitchell-Innes and Nash

The dialogue between painting and other media, such as film or installation, has been a subject of interest for many artists. For Veron Urdarianu, it is the relationship between painting and architecture that merits exploration. This exhibition calls to mind the work of his predecessor in this endeavor, the idealistic painter/architect Hundertwasser. Though Urdarianu seems to share at least some of Hundertwasser’s vision, he unquestionably asserts his own interpretation and ideas.

Hundertwasser promoted the idea that architecture, like painting, should be an individualistic enterprise allowing for freedom of personal expression. Each person should design and build his or her own unique home rather than settling for the thousands of identical, oppressive dwellings whose style was dictated by the two-headed monster of capitalist expediency and communist conformity. His own response when designing buildings was to reject streamlined modernism with its slavery to functionalism and lack of expressiveness, and instead adopted a style that included bright colors, curvy lines, and a high degree of ornamentation.

Urdarianu’s architectural ideas, expressed through toy-sized models scattered in the center of the gallery floor, might at first glance seem more compatible with modernist aesthetics. The houses are nondescript and made almost entirely of hard edges. Looking closer, however, it is clear that Urdarianu is concerned with individual expression, but incorporates it with function rather than considering these two concepts diametrically opposed. For instance, parts of the houses are movable, including floors and roofs that shift to expand the living space or transform the building in some way. The artist has noted that these changes can be made to suit the imagined dweller’s mood. His titles also allude to the individual dweller: “House for a Steady Person,” “House for a Solitary Person 2.” It is interesting to consider Urdarianu’s emphasis on the individual in conjunction with the knowledge that he grew up in Communist Romania.

Urdarianu adopts neither the sleek modernist aesthetic nor Hundertwasser’s ornamental aesthetic. For materials he uses what look like discarded scraps of unfinished wood, plastic, and corrugated plexi. He makes no attempt at a clean finish, leaving screws and hinges exposed and components jutting out on all sides. The curious effect is that all sides of his sculptures look like the back of something, and one expects to find a more resolved facade on the other side. Oddly enough, this might be what houses would look like if Hundertwasser’s dream of self-built homes were realized. Especially through its use of corrugated material, the sculpture also alludes to those individuals in extreme poverty who out of necessity must build their own homes with whatever materials they can find.

In looking for the connection between the paintings and the sculptures, a key component is the spatial shifting evident in both. While the mini-houses contain parts that actually move to create literal spatial shifts, the paintings create this effect pictorially. The artist tilts the landscape up towards the picture plane, while showing houses, objects, and people in traditional perspective. Where this is most successful, as in “The Return of Longing” and “House with a History,” the landscape looms ominously and creates a psychological space. It seems that Urdarianu is particularly interested in this idea: how psychological space is formed in both painting and architecture.

Without the context of the exhibition as a whole, the individual paintings would most likely lose much of this content. Most would probably seem simply half-hearted amalgamations of various elements of modernist painting such as Diebenkorn landscapes, minimalist stripes, and the neutral palette of Morandi. It could be that Urdarianu sees his body of work as forming a whole with each of its components co-dependent, but if he wants them to stand on their own as well, he will have to strengthen the individual pieces.

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