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The story of the contemporary painter Adrian Ghenie’s rise from art student in Cluj, Romania, to darling of international curators and auction houses over the course of barely a dozen years is not unprecedented: the art world loves to anoint young talent. It also likes to discard it, but Ghenie, with prodigious skill and the help of many hands along the way, has emerged as a more durable star, one whose work is now, for better or worse, seen as a desirable asset.
Ghenie, born in 1977 in Baia Mare, grapples with haunting and historical subjects. His alternately lush and vigorous style has earned him comparisons to Francis Bacon, although Ghenie says: “Despite people[‘s] belief Bacon was never a direct source of inspiration for me....At this point in my career, I do what I always did—I steal from everybody”. Meanwhile, his critical and commercial ascent has been speedy enough to attract attention, without tipping into overexposure.
Asked to explain Ghenie’s appeal, the UK independent curator Jane Neal says: “Adrian is an extremely talented painter and manages to engender the feeling of something rather than explicitly outlining exactly what it is. He’s adept at drawing from the past—be it key figures or events from history—but while doing this he simultaneously catapults his work and his canvases into the future by inventing something entirely new. It is never formulaic and always evolving.”
Neal’s 2006 group exhibition Cluj Connection—organised at the now-closed Haunch of Venison gallery in Zurich and centred on young painters from the city—was Ghenie’s stepping stone to a solo show, Shadow of a Daydream, at the gallery the following year. He racked up gallery exhibitions in short order, including a solo at the Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp in 2008 and his first London outing, Darkness for an...