Serban Ionescu was born in Communist Romania and did not speak until he was six. That’s what it says in Dede Young’s essay for Secret History, his solo show at Bridge Gallery on the Lower East Side.
Even if you didn’t know that biographical detail, or that the artist “remembers tales about Dracula’s castle, Werewolves, Vampires, and Vlad the Impaler, and recalls there were many more demons than heroes,” you’d know something was up with this work.
Ionescu moved with his family to New York when he was ten, in 1993, yet his art is absolutely embedded in the Eastern European aesthetic of the Polish painter and theater director Tadeusz Kantor, the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer and the Czech-American architect and poet John Hejduk. The range of associations, though, goes very far afield, from African masks to Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Unabashedly theatrical, literary and pictorial — all high sins of high modernism — “Secret History” is as complicated as the Blajini, a creature from Romanian folklore, which Ionescu has rendered into a sculpture that greets you at the gallery door.
The Blajini, according to Young’s essay, is “anthropomorphic and short, sometimes having the head of a rat.” It has the capacity to be “malicious or have great respect for God and lead a sinless life.”
Ionescu’s monstrosities are undergirded by the same uncomfortable conjunction of maliciousness and innocence as this mythical rat. To my eye, they are the work of an outraged idealist wandering a world where life as it should be hasn’t got a prayer.
The show concludes today.
Serban Ionescu: Secret History continues at the Bridge Gallery (98 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through today, April 29.