FINE ART Gallery

25 Jan 2006

Adria Sartore isn’t your typical contemporary artist. She fits so poorly into the system of contemporary art that at times the system refuses to recognize her as one of its own. She is accused of a partiality for glitz and prettiness, but nevertheless persists in doing things her way – and this stubbornness has borne fruit. Being unafraid to be oneself should in any case evoke our respect, and Adria Sartore is no exception to this rule.

The story of how she became an artist is quite symptomatic. Sartore isn’t a graduate of the fashionable schools and blue-ribbon academies where students are awarded the license of “contemporary artist” after mastering a politically correct visual Esperanto cleansed of any local rough edges. Sartore one day simply decided that she wanted to study painting, so she set off to a museum to copy the old masters – a gesture both serious and touchingly old-fashioned. Several years of such exercises paid off. In 2002, at a major Russian exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, she recognized her own copy in a painting, “Head of Pan,” identified as the work of Mikhail Vrubel. An international art-historical scandal ensued.

The Vrubel Case made her famous, but it wasn’t the notoriety of a world-class copyist that she was after. Adria Sartore wanted to be an artist, and once again she got her way. Two years later London’s National Portrait Gallery selected one of her works (“Ellen”) for the BP Portrait Award.

The award wasn’t an accident. From the very beginning and right up until the present day Adria Sartore has painted only portraits. This intuitively chosen strategy unexpectedly proved to be in tune with the times. In the nineties the portrait genre underwent a rebirth: the number of portraits, portraitists, and special portrait prizes grew astronomically. In the light of this development, the work of the Italian artist ceased to be perceived as an anachronism. It now appeared that Sartore hadn’t at all been lost in time, hopelessly out of touch with the present day, but had simply been one step ahead of the latest trend.

Soon she was noticed by Francesco Masnata, the man who curated the first Arte Povera exhibition, brought Fluxus to Italy, and with the nose of a genuine hunter had spotted more than one future star among the crowds of novices. He reopened the La Bertesca-Masnata Gallery especially for Adria Sartore – an act of faith that, it seems, really did make miracles happen.

Working with Masnata gave Sartore confidence, but it didn’t change her art. As before, Sartore paints only small-format portraits of female sitters. Her old-fashioned, painstakingly studied, detailed, multi-layered paintings and the emphatically rare medium she works in (oil on board) reveal her sound schooling as a copyist and her love of old art. Sartore finds her models on the street. Like the old masters, who happened upon their Madonnas among the crowds at the marketplace, Sartore approaches her subjects and persuades them to pose for her. The only difference is that, instead of a sketchbook, Sartore uses a video camera to compile her studies of striking faces.

Her young Italian models belong as a rule to a particular female type: blue-eyed, redheaded girls in the early stages of puberty. On canvas they all look slightly older than their age. Dressing them up like dolls in a variety of beautiful costumes, the artist alters her heroines from one portrait to the next. One girl first appears as Flora, then as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I; another girl is presented as Elizabeth Siddal, the muse and model of the Pre-Raphaelites; a third girl is depicted as an androgyne. Each of Sartore’s works is thus a kind of historical and aesthetic study – a method as popular today in literature as it is uncommon in the visual arts.

Romantic myths here collide with myths of glamour, giving birth to ambivalent images. Partly girls, partly women, her seductive Lolitas and androgynes combine in themselves the masculine and the feminine. They resemble both angels and transvestites, and this indeterminateness is the main source of intrigue in Adria Sartore’s work.

The fashionable theme of playing with identities takes a completely unexpected turn in Sartore’s paintings. Her models are reminiscent of the countertenors who used to sing all the female roles in the opera. Their faultlessly pure voices, unlike those of women, were perceived to be innocent of sensuality, almost incorporeal. Only their singing seemed capable of achieving and communicating authentic perfection – a perfection that contains all possibilities without realizing anyone of them completely.

"Fine Art" Gallery was established in 1992.

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"Fine Art" Gallery was established in 1992. Director - Marina Obraztsova, curator - Irina Filatova. Gallery deals with contemporary art - painting, graphics, sculpture, photography, video installations.

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