by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Berlin, MAY 19, 2022 – On May 8 artists, art lovers and friends of the artist gathered at the Galerie Wolf & Galentz in Berlin to celebrate the publication of Archi Galentz’s book, Stellungnahmen zu allem Unmöglichen, translated, roughly, as Statements on Everything Impossible.
Galentz, who comes from a family of Armenian artists, was born and brought up in Moscow, then studied under Klaus Fussman at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, where he now resides. Influenced by artistic traditions of both east and west, he has stressed the social and political relevance of art and has become known informally as a cultural ambassador of Armenia in Germany.
In her welcoming remarks, the editor of the volume, Anne E. Wilkins, said that she had racked her mind for the right expression to describe Galentz, and what she came up with was “a phenomenon.” After listing the many things he has done, his vast network of acquaintances and activities, his achievements as a versatile artist, she felt she still had not hit the nail on the head. “Resistance” then came to mind as an apt term; unimpressed by art canons, he considers prevailing viewpoints, whether in the arts or in politics and society, with healthy skepticism and he resists pressures of the art market as well as political ideologies. Galentz’s book, she concludes, provides the only means to adequately grasp the essence of his work.
Mapping a Mind
In point of fact, the book which is far more than a catalogue, offers unique insight into who Archi Galentz is, and how he has come to be who he is. Reading this rich 320-page volume is like rotating one of the huge cubes that he has created — what he has entitled “Globus” Globe) — cubic constructions with maps on each of the six surfaces. But the book is a larger, more complex polygon, actually a dodecahedron with twice as many sides. We move from one facet to the next, thematically tracing the journey of the artist in his first 50 years. With each rotation, we meet a new facet of his personality, as painter, designer, engraver, collector, curator, gallerist, photographer, Arrièregardist — each identity presented now by his professor or a fellow artist, now in a late-night dialogue with a gallerist, but mostly in his own words, in autobiographical reflections. The process unfolds in twelve chapters, each richly illustrated with single works, photographs of (solo and group) exhibitions, documenting the seemingly endless variety of artistic media Galentz has explored, in an incessant experimentation with ideas and forms. As encapsulated in his engagement with cartography, it is a matter of investigating identity through transformation — historical, national and very personal. The catalogue itself is an artistic product bearing the signature Galentz.
Creations of Chance
Galentz has created new art forms often almost by accident. It was, for example, (p. 45) after his first solo exhibition, when he went to Moscow to help his mother renovate a three-room apartment, that he drew inspiration from ripping out walls.
This led to the creation of “Wall Cut Outs,” literally pieces cut out of walls on which art objects were mounted, as frames, and often displayed as self-supporting structures.
Or, (p. 58) in the course of exploring lithographs, he happened upon an old 1877 map of a place called Wusterwitz, located near Brandenburg, Germany. Eager to work with it artistically, he discovered that the place no longer existed in reality, but only on the lithographic stone and printed map. He “saw in this a metaphor for my own Armenian national identity;” he reflected on the fact that few travelers have visited historical Armenia, which no longer exists as a physical-political reality, and is only accessible through maps, photos and cultural objects. He thought of research done by the artist, writer and teacher Mika Hannula, on associations one makes with national identities, and this stimulated reflection on how Armenians conceptualize the homeland, for example. This led to Galentz’s work with cartography, the Globe with its changing maps, West Armenia as “a lost paradise,” “Byzantium,” the changing map of Europe through the Thirty Years War, and so on.
In 2003, while in the Sultanate of Oman, (p. 232) he was out on an excursion in the desert among wild incense bushes, and happened upon a piece of red cloth. Examining the chance discovery led him to experiment with the color red as a visual mixture of orange and purple. He explored the changing nuances of color through movement of fabrics, seeking to depict on an artistic surface the image of flags waving in the wind. In 2009 at the Venice Biennale, an installation of flag objects on a specifically designed wall was exhibited under the title, “voulu/oblige – outskirts of a small contradiction.” Other works created from this process depict anticipation of the French revolution, the Armenian tricolor flag and so on.
Homeland and Diaspora
The question of identity is a central theme in his work. As a Moscow-born Armenian living in Germany, he is at home in all three languages and cultures, as evidenced also in his work as collector, gallerist and curator (p. 85). He purchased his first painting in 1995, and since then has assembled a vast collection. His Armenian works, especially from the post-Soviet period, include many from the diaspora, whose significance, he believes, has still not been adequately appreciated. Specifically, he writes that art history over 30 years has not grasped the fact that, although Armenian artists living in different parts of the world had little contact with one another, they yet developed a “common aesthetic of concentrated and subtle abstraction” and belong to the “same cultural landscape;” they have developed an abstraction as a “gesture of liberation and manifestation of freedom” (p. 86).
In late 2008, Galentz and Thorsten Bilib, whose brother was a master student of Klaus Fussman, opened a project space, InteriorDAsein, which includes an exhibition hall and a workshop for framing. For over a decade the center, which has a permanent collection of works by 40 mainly Russian and Armenian contemporary artists, has hosted 25 curated exhibitions and has become a “unique Armenian cultural center in Europe” (Vazgen Pahlavuni-Tadevosyan, p. 145.)
Queen of the Arts
Though Galentz has experimented in literally every imaginable art form, including those he has invented, his first love is painting, and among works in this medium, portraiture occupies a special place. “It is certainly something pertaining as much to the painter as to the person portrayed, and yet something very different even beyond that, something words cannot express, that for me makes painting the undisputed Queen of the Arts” (p. 190). And the book is full of paintings, a large number of them magnificent portraits, including self-portraits and family members.
For these portraits, as for works in other genres, Galentz has provided photographs that show the various stages of their creation, from sketches, to pencil renditions, to oil on canvas, wood, etc. The reader also can visit the exhibitions themselves, again thanks to a myriad of illustrations of the galleries; again Galentz provides preparatory sketches of the exhibitions, the rooms, the works on walls or on display surfaces, then photographs of the same, at the vernissage or prior to the opening. The overall effect is one of temporal participation, allowing the reader to retrace the steps in the process of coming-into-being, be it of the art object or the exhibition itself. Combined with the contributions of other artists and writers, Anna E. Wilkins, Andreas Wolf, Klaus Fussman, Lev Evsovitch, Mika Hannula, Vladimir Salnikov, Vazgen Pahlavuni-Tadevosyan and Peter Michel — some as essays, others in dialogue with the artist — the visual depictions throughout the catalogue make it a unique, illustrated biography of Archi Galentz, itself a new work of art.
A special, limited edition of 50 copies is available with a polychromatic original etching of “Die verspätete Gerechtigkeit” (Belated Justice) for €190, each signed and numbered. It shows a scene from the Marsyas myth, known also as the competition between Apollo and Marsyas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsyas) An English translation of the book, at least in part, would be most welcome.
Archi Galentz, Stellungnahmen zu allem Unmöglichen, Anna E. Wilkins (Ed.), Andreas Wolf (Layout & Graphics), Berlin Artbear Books, 2022.