Kunstmuseum Schloss Derneburg is pleased to announce an exhibition by American artist, Robert Nava opening on 17 June 2023. The show features a group of new paintings completed this year and installed in the castle’s main entrance. Known for a vibrant and mischievous approach to figuration that is deceptively spontaneous and strategically child-like in appearance, Nava’s distinctive visual language of metamorphic creatures pulsating in electric colors evokes a fantastical world replete with new myths, monsters, and heroes.
These new paintings are both mirrors and portals. Traversing the knife-edge between gestural abstraction and figurative imagery, the artist’s compositions transport the viewer into spaces of fantasy, populated by a cast of specters that take the form of creatures, landscapes, and objects at once mythic and every day.
This new body of work is unified by the pictorial device of a gilded frame. Inside these painted frames, the artist samples subject matter from across his various bodies of work, while further developing his signature iconography into a meditation on painting as an alchemical process for producing enchantment. Nava’s paintings ask us: When is an image a reflection of our world and when is it a gateway into another? How do paintings haunt our memory and infect our dreams?
Referring to the opulent gilded frames that typically adorn Old Master canvases, Nava’s frames are by contrast deliberately gaudy and unstable. Suggesting the art-historical link between vision, vanity, and vanitas, the artist’s frames transform pictorial space into stage-sets for fantasy, death, and splendor. Built from loose and rapid applications of metallic paint, his frames evoke rather than describe the intricately carved and gilded surfaces that proliferate in neoclassical galleries. Yet they perform a similarly complex function.
For the artist, the device of the painted frame functions like the rules of a game, defining a space in which an alternate universe can unfold. The frame is an invitation toward a kind of questing: a doorway into a different mode of seeing and thinking. It is a unifying force as well as a circle of protection, which shields the viewer from the world of Nava’s creatures as much as it protects those creatures from us.
These paintings construct a hall of mirrors, which reflects the waking world darkly, as if through the prism of childhood memories and dreams. Pulling apart the seams between the real and the imagined, these paintings are as much the product of contemporary media culture as they are referential to the low-fi, 8-bit video game graphics of the 1980s, the decade when the artist came of age. A nostalgic quality pierces through the work, suggesting the need to repopulate and preserve a universe of memory against the inexorable oblivion of cultural evolution.
Nava’s subject matter deftly interweaves the terrifying and the adorable, the angelic and the demonic. Serpentine and snake-like creatures recur, often bearing fangs and confronting the viewer. Fantastical chimaeras proliferate, as in the figure of a hybrid bear-alligator who rises to menace the viewer in Changing Your Mind Last Minute (Split Decision) (2023), or the heads of bear-foxes affixed to the bodies of jetliners in Portal Planes (2023). Yet not all of Nava’s creatures menace. The placid expression a porpoise-like entity surfacing under a starry moonlit sky in Raindrop Star Maker (2023) suggests a moment of oceanic repose, rhyming with the serene sensibility of cool clouds of fog parting to reveal snow-capped peaks in Hidden Fog Temple (2023).
The resulting works operate somewhere between Alice’s looking glass and the Evil Queen’s magic mirror, between the channel-surfing aesthetics of television and the transient spectacles of social media. These paintings are haunted objects that pierce our reality and reconfigure it strangely. Likening the metamorphic visions of a fairy-tale reflecting pool to the “augmented reality” of technological vision, these paintings reconfigure the contours of a primal imagination, rendering the solidity of the canvas into a liquid space for enchantment and, ultimately, freedom.
Robert Nava was born in 1985 in East Chicago, Indiana. He received his BA in Fine Art from Indiana University Northwest in 2008, and his MFA in Painting from Yale University School of Art in 2011. Solo exhibitions of Nava’s work have been presented at Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels, Belgium (2018, 2020); Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2019); V1 Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark (2019); Vito Schnabel Gallery, New York (2021); Pace Gallery, Palm Beach, FL (2021), East Hampton, NY (2021), and London, England (2022); Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2022); and Watermill Center, Water Mill, NY (2022). Nava’s work is included in the permanent collections of Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, Florida; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, California; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida; Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, Florida; Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana, CA, and Zuzeum Art Center, Riga, Latvia. Nava currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
This exhibition is organized in collaboration with Vito Schnabel Gallery.
For more information and images, please contact the Hall Art Foundation’s administrative office at email@example.com.