Amid the public displays of penitence in the #MeToo era, the knee-jerk qualifier “as a father” has been particularly maligned for its implication that parenthood is somehow a prerequisite for possessing respect for human dignity. At the same time, there is a specific torment to being a parent in a moment when the monsters under the bed have been revealed as more than just shadows, and the helplessness of the child is openly matched by that of the parents, who can never fully shield their offspring against the abuses rampant in the world.
Sanya Kantarovsky mined this double vulnerability in his gut-wrenching solo presentation “Letdown.” The New York–based painter has developed a signature style that recuperates the visual vocabulary of Soviet satire as a formal device, endowing his figures with the laconic features and Plasticine anatomies one might have encountered in the pages of Moscow’s satirical magazine Krokodil. For “Letdown,” Kantarovsky built on this bittersweet nostalgic tone by staging a selection of recent paintings in an environment that revisited aspects of his own childhood in the Soviet Union. The artist covered one entire gallery wall with a cornflower-colored print of the facade of a Khrushchyovka, an iconic form of Soviet public housing predicated on uniformity. As a finishing touch, he added a set of brightly painted metal cherepashki (turtles), ingenious Soviet playground staples consisting of climbable concentric circles arranged to suggest tortoise shells.
The scene depicted in Kompleks, 2016, is set against the backdrop of one such housing project, which is laid out across the horizon like a mausoleum. In the foreground is a child in an indigo-tinged bicorne, his right eye ribbed in the same shade of gray as his thin lips. His wrist dangles limply in the grip of an adult woman, who is cropped out of the image, leaving only her bronze-hued taffeta skirt buffeting in her wake. Hovering over the child is a solemn man in a long black coat. His bowed head is flushed a cinnamon shade, and his fingers hang over the boy’s hat as if he were choosing a pastry from a bakery window. And yet whether the man’s intentions are sinister remains unclear. Perhaps he is only trying to help?
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