London’s Karnik Gallery is a new platform showcasing contemporary artists who draw from traditions of the past. Director Mark Keshishian discusses the new space, introducing its first exhibition: Resonance x Relevance.
A: What was your motivation in setting up the space?
MK: My motivation in creating Karnik Gallery is an amalgam of many factors and experiences that I have had within the art world since my childhood. Having grown up in an antique dealing household, I have always had an appetite for period art and design and knew early on that I would like to continue my family’s legacy in my own way. I hope to have developed a business model that will be successful and relevant in the long term.
A: How does the Resonance x Relevance exhibition bridge the gap between history and the present?
MK: Resonance x Relevance is an exhibition that brings together eight unique contemporary artists who all draw inspiration from the old masters. Our goal as a gallery is to present a curated selection of pieces that recontextualise classical themes and techniques in a demeanour that is pertinent to our present times. Our artists reinvent history rather than replicate what has already been done. For me, this is what I truly find exciting in art – when a creator can draw meaning from something distant and make it relevant to today.
A: Why is it important, in 2019, to draw these parallels between old and new?
MK: Artists throughout history, be it Michaelangelo, Picasso or Hirst, look towards the past and translate to us a profound vision that reflects their connection with their inspirations. In 2019, there is an evident re-emergence of old master works in exhibitions – and of shows dedicated to the artists who take inspiration from them. My personal favourites have been Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now at Gagosian and Keith Tyson’s Life Still at Hauser and Wirth.
A: Can you give some examples of artworks from the show – do you have any highlights?
MK: All the works on display have a strong presence of emotion and colour. From a visual standpoint, the exhibition will look very dynamic. It’s intriguing to be able to use the Renaissance as an overarching sphere of influence for the pieces. It excites me to be able to juxtapose the highly dramatic and visceral bronze sculptures of Raffi Tokatlian against the bold and pop quadriptych of Betty Boop by Mouna Rebeiz.
A: How do these pieces respond to, or question, classical or historic works of art?
MK: Morten Rockford Ravn’s Extracting the Stone of Folly, 2019, is a great representation of Karnik Gallery’s approach. The artist takes Hieronymus Bosch’s Cutting the Stone, c.1494 and re-envisions both its composition and meaning into something visibly abstracted and contemporary. Bosch is often seen as a precursor to surrealism, so to reinterpret one of his works in today’s times is truly an exciting feat. Rockford Ravn’s adaptation of the original scene shows consciousness being dismantled and divided from a central point. Organic forms sinuate across the wooden canvas and bouquet into a much larger silhouette of graphic colours, that on a closer inspection, reveal mechanical and digital components; distorting the ever-fine line between humankind and machine. Bosch explored human morality through religion, whereas, Rockford Ravn takes a more secular approach.
A: What do you hope audiences take away from the exhibition?
MK: That works of period art and design can have a profound effect on contemporary art and can be the basis for something thought-provoking, dynamic and current. I often find that people consider old master works alien and distant to them; Resonance x Relevance will hopefully bridge the gap between old and new and instil a new appreciation for figurative works.
A: What is your vision for the future of the gallery, and what projects do you have lined up for 2020?
MK: I have a lot of ideas for the future of Karnik Gallery and can’t wait to continue introducing new concepts for this series of pop-up exhibitions. I look up to art dealer Vito Schnabel a great deal and would like to somehow combine his creative model and my vision, in order to ensure that Karnik Gallery will have an individual identity within the marketplace. The last thing that I would want to do is to replicate what all the other galleries are producing. I can’t reveal too much about the future exhibitions, but expect to see a solo show for an artist who I believe is the latest great German Expressionist painter and a group exhibition that features a collection of breath-taking old master works in conjunction with contemporary art.
The exhibition runs until 20 October. Find out more here.
Lead image: Fake Abstract Boucher, 2019 by Lino Lago.