Rubens Ghenov’s enigmas with Milton Jaula’s sound art at Liberti

Post by Chip Schwartz

Rubens Ghenov’s show at Artspace Liberti on 2424 York Street is a series of snapshots without a camera. Everything in the gallery space in the show “ie: Brazilein Chaekkorias, rotted one note” seems to move in frames. The intermingled, painted images are stationary, but their relationships are jumbled and obfuscated. Along with Milton Jaula’s anxiously dynamic soundscape (listen here) resonating throughout the space, this show is intriguing because it is so challenging.

O Astronauta da Saudade (Astronaut of Forlorn), 60×72 inches, acrylic, spray paint, carbon transfer and graphite on canvas

Ghenov’s paintings at first appear somewhat sparse. He leaves a large amount of empty space visible and the surfaces of the unprimed canvases glare unapologetically into the surrounding area. Amidst this textile void linger splotches of paint, textures, and images of people who often seem eerily familiar.


Upon questioning the artist about these individuals loitering on the gallery walls, he explained one of the root elements of his painting style, which he refers to as “parafiction”: He said some of the people in his work are historical and Brazilian pop culture figures, but many of his representations are twisted with the fabric of fiction as well. Sometimes he combines the characteristics of multiple people; other times he introduces fictive elements. Ultimately, he recontextualizes individual facts, and what emerges is a narrative rampant with indecipherable information.

In reference to the nonobjective elements on his canvases, Ghenov cited a few starting points from which these forms emerge. He gave a nod, for instance, to Josef Albers and his abstract, geometric forms. Albers’ rich color-schemes shine through, although the deep reds present in virtually every image are a direct visual cue to the Brazilwood trees from which Ghenov’s native country takes its name. Images of Brazil and the cityscapes of São Paulo also play a large part in shaping his work. The juxtaposition of poor favelas (a type of shantytown) with high modernist architecture certainly informs the duality of this show. Indeed, the architectural forms here are powerful and straight, yet simple and almost meager.

Gal Coastal,15×20 inches, acrylic, spray paint and graphite on linen

The clash between Ghenov’s so-called parafictive narratives and the formal design elements is at times jarring. Often, the viewer is not sure where to look, and giving context to any facet of a work (let alone an entire painting) is daunting at best. The choppy, electronic noises of Milton Jaula’s sound art serve to further disorient gallery patrons, but certainly do not detract; they complement Ghenov’s enigmas splendidly. This is no straightforward show, and the chaos ultimately leads to the conclusion that these works must be taken at face value, not over-analyzed.