A detail: a ruffled corner of cardboard. Another detail: the seams of a raw canvas. And another: a drawing that looks as if it is about to drop off the wall. Genoveva Filipovic’s work may seem like it’s falling apart, but it looks casually at home in the gallery setting. Her solo show at Vilma Gold is accompanied by a deliberately cryptic text that only gives one straightforward detail – ‘New York-based German artist’ – before swerving into a series of ruminations on Marcel Duchamp (Filipovic liked it when he made birds but doesn’t like the birds), Sigmar Polke (‘the potato house is funny’) and Piero Manzoni (she likes him too).
There’s a football on the floor, with a large black and white painted cardboard sheet resting on top of it (Shoehorn, all works 2015, though it looks more like a wedged barrel or, from certain angles, a wave) and two untitled pale wooden sculptures, which appear to be arches or doorways but are too small to be practical. On the wall behind the football sculpture is a large painting on cardboard, whose wooden frame fails to conceal its torn edges. There is a small watercolour of a landscape that has been tacked to the wall from the middle, so that its edges curl a bit. All of these objects feel simultaneously flimsy and valuable: made of cheap matter, they toy with the white cube’s capacity to render a pile of cardboard expensive. Though the works escape preciousness, Filipovic presses their status as fine art, as sculpture and painting in dialogue with art history.
‘Picabia paints funny boats. Polke is OK,’ reads the press release. On the wall is Filipovic’s version of a very early Francis Picabia work, The Point of the Port of Saint-Tropez, painted in 1900, when the French artist was 21. Filipovic’s interpretation is on a canvas that has been taken off its frame and hung from the wall using brown masking tape. The older seascape has been swiftly redrawn, losing detail but somehow retaining the essence of the original: water, sailboats, a few houses, a mountain range. Below the ‘Picabia’ is another rendition of an iconic work: Henri Matisse’s Luxe, Calme et Volupté (1904). Re-imagined here in black and white, Filipovic refers to it in the press release as a ‘grey-period Matisse’. This image is repeated in increasingly abstract variants in the two aforementioned cardboard paintings.
Filipovic charts a struggle with artistic inheritance and possibilities which, while not the same as that of the Frenchmen painting over a century earlier, is similar. The young Picabia was experimenting with the art of his time and that of his impressionist predecessors on his way to cubism and his personalized dada style. Matisse (though older at the time of painting his fauvist masterpiece) was inventing a new movement. Filipovic is trying tradition on for size and deciding it’s a bit long in the sleeve.
Here is a young woman using the grand narratives of art history’s great men: putting a football under the Matisse, making his footing less steady. She does so with confidence and humour and the results feel fresh. Imperfect in the best way possible, her untitled oil on canvas works have everything to do with the history of painting, yet show little interest in commanding a similar reverence. Other pieces do the same with sculpture and installation: they quote predecessors and display this awareness of history with curiosity and a chuckle.
Filipovic’s wink-wink translation of historical works is further complicated by a black and white print – also unframed and mounted directly on the wall – of a photograph of herself standing in front of the oversized, detached foot of a classical sculpture. Before the remnant, she covers her eyes and puts her hand above the large toe, as if in a gesture of blessing. The work’s title is The Artist’s Despair before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins (2015). Is she serious? She doesn’t have to be. Her dance around art and its conventions – two steps forward, one step back – is intelligent and engaging, and it also seems sincere.