Emilio Corti is a writer for NY Arts.
Russian artist Petr Axenoff, in his first Italian solo show at Gallery Pack, Milan, challenges the audience with a hazardous juxtaposition of fascination and cruelty. The greeting words “welcome” are shiningly displayed on the entrance wall, made out of golden gun bullets, faced by golden antitank obstacles. An image rich in references, from Beuys’ and Morris’ aggressive environments to the classic Warholian glimmery silk screening of horror. The space is treated with elegance, a projection of his exuberant will for elegance and beauty.
There is a sublimation of mass media’s everyday horror in beauty. Axenoff worships beauty. In his paintings, “he expresses pictorial nuances. Such nuances are probably much more than signs” (Alexandre Yakimovich.) His passion for beauty has a peculiar significance in today’s debate about concept and aesthetics. In the context of the present international “fine arts renaissance” Axenoff’s works gains a personal aura, depicting portraits of mujaheds with their guns with blonde white girls sitting on their knees. An image that could be disturbing but treated in a way that reminds viewers of the 20s movies, tales, and stories that make us shift away from the present-time emotions that such characters could arise.
The paintings come evidently from staged photographs. The whole history of photographic portrait, from its beginning, comes to mind—big rooms with natural lights, velvets, shadows, dust, old sofas, making the whole scene collapse in a memory of things past that rises from the surface of this paintings and floats over in a no-time experience. The mujahed and the girl could be anyone, yet they are who they are. Axenoff’s apolitical operation is truly political in its smooth insertion of an element in its folds—peace.
“The gold of war neutralizes the vapors of the mass-media blood,” the curators of the show, Olesya Turkina and Victor Mazin, state in their text. Beauty, again, is the turning point of the whole operation. In this particular time of interesting commissions between East and West, this young Russian artist brings in our tired white cubes a breeze of romantic memories that stimulates the aesthetic thinking. The poses of his characters remind the viewer of Christian frescos of saints in hieratic absorption, indifferent to the viewer and raptured in their world of beauty and light. Oil painting and oil war. These are the extremes between which Axenoff stages his bridges, drops his golden bombs, and discusses glamor, advertisement, fashion, political propaganda, with the result of calming down the waters, the feel of peace after a battle, a will for peace.
Interesting to know he has been always interested in theology, during the last years of the communist empire. He pursued his studies with obstinacy, in a context that challenged his believes, and furthermore, in his early experiences as a fashion designer. The result of his passion is continuity with the great Christian Russian iconographic tradition, a proposition of themes that traces back to the dissident theological and aesthetic thinkers like Florenskji. The various media involved in this exhibition converge to the big paintings in analogy to the way ancient icons capture the attention from the context. The differences, the significance shift between the elements of the show left us in the end with a pacificated attitude, a no-nonsense view of our time.