"It has become clear to me that painting is much like early American wrestling," writes Milena Dragicevic in the press release for her exhibition "Pampero." The meaning of this bold, but seemingly dubious, statement slowly unfolded through the seven paintings and five photographic ink-jet prints that made up the show. lts title refers to Pampero Firpo, an Argentine of Armenian descent who in the 1960s and '70s was one of the world's most famous professional wrestlers, and who is depicted in some of the prints. Others are more broadly connected to the sport: DiggerBumBlue, 2014, for instance, shows the big, blue-singlet-clad behind of a female wrestler in an awkward close-up. Not every image can be identified by its subject; some are seen from too close or are too blurry, putting them in dialogue with the more abstract-looking paintings. The color of these photos is distorted, too, as if intensified to the point where the printer couldn't take it anymore. The mainly orange-and-pink print PamperoBlackPants, 2014, is echoed in the adjacent painting From the Pampero Series (Mitzi), 2014, showing a double pair of spade forms, one in gray, and a mirrored image in a very neon orange and red. One wondered if (and how) the paintings in the exhibition could also be connected to wrestling.
At times, their reduced forms recall the outlines of a body, but others are just nonrepresentational volumes, gestures, or lines of movement. But while it would be a Stretch to say the paintings are somehow "about" wrestling, they do evoke a hidden physical presence, a sense of corporeal movement and restraint, that came into focus in part thanks to the juxtaposition with the printed works. The very differences in between photo and painting create friction and ask for attention. The wrestling images allowed a mass-cultural reality to enter the room, while the paintings were more serene, distant, and well considered but also showed a greater variety of expression in texture and materiality. Small color details add subtlety to the work.
For Dragicevic, childhood memories of seeing wrestling matches, with their strange mix of reality and thearer, on television, offer an analogy to painting. Both cases are incumbent upon "a gesture, an attitude, a rehearsal, and a performance," as the artist says. The gestural aspect of her paintings is particularly evident. Canvases such as From the Pampero Series (Lizzi), 2014, or From the Pampero Series (Ragnr), 2013, seem to be the result of concentrated sessions in the studio. What we see are the traces of the action. ln this sense her painting could be described as performative–as putting the accent on process as subject matter. To look for discursive meaning here makes no sense.
Regarding the challenge of being a painter in the twenty-first century, the artist says that a "suspension of disbelief" is helpful. That's very telling. Even though it may seem that painting is played out, with everything already done, you have to believe there is still something left to be found there. This paradox reminds me of how Luc Tuymans, early in his career, called his paintings "authentic falsifications". ln both cases, expectations of making the ultimate or true painting are cut short. But it is still possible to act and to make believe.
Jurriaan Beschop: Milena Dragicevic. In: Artforum, November 2014