Sanya Kantarovsky, “On Them”
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No one seems to be having a very good time in Sanya Kantarovsky’s mordantly funny paintings at Luhring Augustine. Filling his work with figures in varying states of distress, the Russian-born artist both allegorizes and satirizes contemporary life and its discontents.
Like many painters of his generation, Kantarovsky blurs the line between irony and sincerity while raiding art history for style cues. He seems especially enamored with the artists of the late-19th- and early-20th- century Symbolist movement, which channeled the era’s decadence and moral lassitude. One piece here, titled Needles, is oddly reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss: Kantarovsky depicts a cadaverous green woman being propped up in a hospital bed by a naked man kneeling from behind as he leans across her shoulders. She wears a patient’s gown decorated with a skein of alternating syringes and flowers that commands our attention, much like the patterned gold cloak wrapping the lovers in The Kiss; Klimt’s choice of pose—a man draped around a woman—is likewise echoed in Needles.
Traces of Munch and Rose-Period Picasso can be read, respectively, into Nobody Knew So Well, How to Frighten Miss Clavel, a portrait of a schoolmarm with bones framing her face, and Life of the Party, in which a headless baby with an accordion entertains a ghoulish crowd. Similarly, Fracture, a Pietà-like pairing of a man sprawled in the lap of a woman, owes a debt to the French Nabis group—except, that is, for her suffering, saucer- shaped eyes, which appear to have wandered in from a kitsch painting by Margaret Keane.
In these works and others, death hangs over subjects whose emotions are held in check by a dark, fin-de-siècle weariness. You come away from the show with the sense that our still young millennium already feels old and exhausted.