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Four Feet Ten In One Sock, 2010, Wolfe Von Lenkiew
Four Feet Ten In One Sock, 2010, Wolfe Von Lenkiewicz

Wolfe Von Lenkiewicz At The Triumph Gallery

Snow White marches on Red Square as the inimitable British artist takes his unique talents to Moscow's leading contemporary art gallery

Tonight, a twisted version of Disneyland marches on Red Square as the British artist Wolfe Von Lenkiewicz follows in the footsteps of The Chapmans and Damien Hirst and exhibits at the renowned Triumph Gallery in Moscow. Among a conceptually dizzying array of works that cleverly fuse everything from Malevich and Boccioni to Koons and Hirst, Lenkiewicz has created a series that appropriate the iconic figure of Snow White into classic works by the likes of Balthus and Schongauer. In doing so, Lenkiewicz boldly takes the ultimate all-American icon deep into the heart of The Motherland, commenting upon the contemporary political arena, challenging the spectre of art history and raising issues surrounding authorship and so-called untouchable genius. Perhaps one of the most outstanding pieces in the show is his scale reproduction of Guernica, a terrifying and brilliantly surreal offering that incorporates imagery from the WWII Disney cartoon Der Fuehrer’s Face. Dazed Digital caught up with Lenkiewicz in his studio just before he headed east to talk communism, genius and the unfinished nature of all creation...

Dazed Digital: Why Walt Disney? Why Snow White?
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz:
Everything about Disney is fascinating. Walt Disney was anti-communist and he had this really vindictive side to him that came out in the McCarthy era when he started accusing workers who had simply wanted a raise of being communists. He was also interested in this notion of absolute perfection – perfect cities, perfect towns and so on. Snow White is a symbol of both this all-American purity and this hypocrisy. She’s the image of absolute perfection, although, in fact, her story has been appropriated from the Brothers Grimm – because Disney liked to take things, commercialise them and make them much more popular. So, in these works, I’ve appropriated the story again, taking care to change it in such as way a to make it so that Snow White is not just Snow White, but she is also part St Anthony and part Brueghel as well. I’m interested in taking Snow White into the realm of a different kind of iconic image. So, for example, Snow White might become part-Picasso or part-Balthus. They’re powerful icons that collide.

Dazed Digital: Picasso was a communist. Is there something overtly political in that particular collision?
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz:
Sure, one of the elements is that Picasso was a communist and that we are dealing with notions of violence and struggle; sexuality and liberation. At the moment, Russia is going through this really fascinating period and the people there are in a real state of flux. It’s like capitalism without democracy – purely transparent amphetamine capitalism. And to place Disneyland there is quite curious because of that. What I’m creating is like a Petri Dish where a figure like Snow White is both the input and the output, which is a reflection of how evolution actually works. Usually, there are a few simple rules to evolution, such as something’s supposed to reproduce and mutate, which results in a circular process that becomes incredibly complex over time. Here, Snow White would be the input that goes into the environment, which would be Picasso, and then you would get the feedback – a combination of both of them, which would then go into a different environment.

Dazed Digital: What is your intention in doing that?
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz:
My intention in art is to push things to the very lengths that they will go and to go all out. I am very concerned with the myth of the immaculately conceived – how certain individuals will say, ‘Look, this person was a genius. Therefore, it came from God and it was divinely inspired.’ Of course, when one actually looks into it, this is a strange idea to propagate. These are self-perpetuating mythologies. Michelangelo, for example, began his life as a faker. He was taught specifically to imitate but he created a myth later on, which was really quite simple: “I was never taught by anyone, I was given this skill by God. And I’m Italian!” And not only Italian, but also Tuscan! So the ridiculous idea was propagated that if you were a true-blooded Tuscan, God would give you this blind talent with which you could paint The Sistine Chapel. The reality is that immaculate conception never happens, art always develops from art, and that’s what this show’s about. It’s about saying forget about all these issues of appropriation of the 70s and the 80s. Now it’s simply a question of trying to say: “Here’s the material – magnificent material  – now let’s make it!” History is not reclaimable, it is just material that we can use. The work doesn’t have to be politically-charged, I don’t even have to have had authentic contact with the subject for it to be authentic. Goya is sold to the world as the witness to the horrors of war, but he didn’t actually witness everything he depicted. He couldn’t have. The aura of an artwork being immaculately conceived is just dependent on artistry and the alchemy you employ. The reality of how knowledge and education and artistry are developed is completely the opposite to the notion of genius. It’s all about shared knowledge.

Dazed Digital: Well that’s almost a communist ideal –  it's like saying you want the whole of art history to be a level playing field...
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz:
Without being a communist, I’m saying that effectively the idea is to share. So if someone were to appropriate and copy and transport my work, then great, go for it. It wouldn’t have any commercial effect on my work. My work would still be uniquely bracketed within the arena of this artist has attempted to do this. It’s just not a problem and it shouldn’t be a problem.

Dazed Digital: So, let’s burn all the sacred cows and golden calves...
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz:
There certainly shouldn’t be this attitude that you can’t take The Last Judgement and turn it into something like a Brillo ad. You can’t see these things as sacred and untouchable because nothing really ever ends – everything constantly shifts and changes colours according to how the world is shifting and changing. A good example of that is The Lincoln Memorial, which was just sitting gathering dirt until Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in front of it, and then it became endowed with meaning again, or with what Derrida calls spectral density. The Iraq War happens and Guernica has meaning again. Picasso knew all of this. He knew that when an artwork goes out into the world it is incomplete – the world completes it, but the world doesn’t just complete it, artists can too! I mean the great tragedy of Guernica was that Picasso left it. If you look at the several different stages it went through, it's just that at a certain point people looked at it and said, ‘He has got to the finishing point; he has made it a masterpiece!’ But what is this finishing point? If a Nazi had come in his studio and put a gun to his head and said, ‘Carry on...’ do you seriously think he would have ruined it. Of course he wouldn’t of! It would have become something else and at points it would have got better or it would have regressed and become something else. Well, what is the difference between Picasso doing that and someone like me? I know that gets difficult, and people say who the hell do you think you are, do you seriously think you can improve the  Mona Lisa?!’ But I believe you can, because this notion of genius – that it is a finishing point and untouchable – is not true. The fact is that Einstein was improved upon; Newton was improved upon. Transpose that to the art world and it’s the same thing.

Victory Over The Sun exhibits at the Triumph Gallery until April 27