Adrian Ghenie The Darwin Room
Adrian Ghenie’s The Darwin Room, 2013-2014, is the second of his installations presented as a “room within a room”. The first, The Dada Room, 2010, is now in the permanent collection of S.M.A.K. Ghent. Consisting of an assemblage of meticulously sourced 19th century furniture, wooden floor boards and wall panels, The Darwin Room takes its composition from Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation, 1632 (collection Musée du Louvre). Concentrating on the juxtaposition of shape, colour and tone, as if composing a two dimensional painting, Ghenie has created a three-dimensional environment which, at first glance, resembles one of his paintings but later reveals itself to be a life-sized study room from a past era. Dark and gloomy, the room evokes an intriguing physiological atmosphere of anxiety and comfort; a prototypical birth site for visionary thought within European intellectual history.
Ghenie talks often of his interest in painting the “texture of history”. Much of the visual information we see of historical figures, events and places are rendered flat and two-dimensional and it is their forgotten surface and texture that fascinates Ghenie. Darwin’s personal story and iconography holds a special fascination for the artist; the appalling skin condition and vomiting syndrome that afflicted him, his luxuriant beard and Victorian attire all afford a rich source of textural possibilities that reveal themselves in the series of Darwin portraits that make up this exhibition. During his lifetime, Darwin’s distinctive physical features became widely known. He was frequently portrayed in the satirical press of the era with the face of an ape superimposed on his. This grotesque caricature of the great man of science is a starting point for Ghenie’s painting.