LONDON — The world of Gardar Eide Einarsson is one of resistance, negation, and opposition. His works are usually based on coded messages and decontextualized signs taken from various subcultures, hard-core punk, and criminality, with references to terrorists and murderers.
Yet the aesthetic employed in his paintings and installations wouldn’t let the visitors realize any of this. The artist has built his own visual language, appropriating elements from some of the most iconic art movements such as minimalism and geometric abstraction. The appearance of his works, usually in black and white, emphasizes a sort of innate non-communicative quality that is difficult to overcome without further explanations.
Einarsson’s interest in criminal organizations and terrorism — easily labelled obsessive — reveals a sympathy with the theme of individual expression in opposition to social norms. After all, crime can be interpreted as an extreme assertion of the self over society.
The artist seems to further draw parallels between the language of the art world and the underground system of criminality, combining elements of the two in his work. Both groups can be impenetrable, made up of a relatively small circle of affiliates who know, respect, inform, and envy each other.
A crystal-clear reference to art history can be seen in the new series of paintings exhibited in “He likes the fiestas. He likes the music. He likes to dance.”, his second solo show at Maureen Paley. Each canvas, realized in a sort of neo–Abstract Expressionist style, has been silkscreened over with an image of a tarpaulin that covers almost the entire surface of the paintings. Using a simple device used to shield, protect and hide, the artist plays with visitors by frustrating their expectations, unsubtly mocking the Willem de Kooning fashion of the canvases.
Tarps, oil drums and sandbags are the recurring material of the exhibition, evoking cities at war, riots and slums. The main installation in the gallery is a series of menacing but explosive-free vertical flame mines. Assembly instructions for the weapons were found by the artist in a booklet entitled Marine Corp Field Manual No. 3-11, “Flame, Riot Control Agents, and Herbicide Operations,” a manual distributed to U.S. Marines and surprisingly easy to download from the internet. As stated in the preface, the publication “describes the doctrine, tactics, and techniques for employing flame weapons, riot control agents and herbicide during peacetime and combat.” (The usefulness of a mine during peacetime escapes me.)
Even if harmless, the mines distributed on the ground floor of the gallery can be interpreted as a witty comment on the art world. Changing the gallery space into a minefield is also a way of shaping an idiomatic expression, reporting the “dangers” of the art system in an almost literal way.
Just when I thought I was approaching insight into Einarsson’s poetry, a sophisticated polemic against institutions and in favor of the independent figure, I found out the artist has recently collaborated with fashion brand Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) on the packaging of some limited edition flacons of perfume. The news left me a bit puzzled: Einarsson’s works seem pretty far from the glamorous lifestyle promoted by YSL. If the collaboration (whose outcome remains pretty attractive anyhow) doesn’t invalidate the quality of the artist’s body of works, it certainly leaves some open questions: more reasons to keep an eye on the artist and his practice.
Gardar Eide Einarsson: “He likes the fiestas. He likes the music. He likes to dance.” continues at Maureen Paley (21 Herald Street, London) through July 13.