Enfilade

Exhibition | Flora Yukhnovich: Thirst Trap

Posted in catalogues, exhibitions, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on March 16, 2022

Flora Yukhnovich, I’ll Have What She’s Having, 2020, oil on linen, 170 × 220 cm. Estimated to sell for £60,000–£80,000, the painting sold for £2,253,500 (Sotheby’s London, 14 October 2021).

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After only a handful of solo exhibitions, beginning in 2017, the British artist Flora Yukhnovich (b. Norwich 1990) has recently emerged as a leading contemporary painter, receiving coverage in both visual arts media and the popular press. The New York Times recently included her in a piece about speculators hoping to to ‘flip’ art at auction (in October, her painting I’ll Have What She’s Having sold at Sotheby’s for $3.1million).

I note Yukhnovich here at Enfilade because of her engagement with eighteenth-century painting, an engagement she attributes to Mary Sheriff. In a 2020 interivew with Immediations, published by The Courtauld, Yukhnovich references both Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (University of Chicago Press, 1990) and Enchanted Islands: Picturing the Allure of Conquest in Eighteenth-Century France (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

As Yukhnovich describes her artistic development during the interview:
“I then began looking at decorative design. At first it was about the very flatness of it, which I really enjoyed. Then it became about the ways in which paint itself can do things, like create drop shadows, or the different ways in which paint can be used to construct space. It became apparent to me that I was gravitating toward these things because they were related to femininity in a way, but they also all happened to be derived from a Rococo aesthetic. When I found [Sheriff’s] book on Fragonard, I realised that a lot of the Rococo seemed to tap into all these different elements that I had been looking at. The aesthetic of the Rococo feels very familiar to me, and there are lots of things that I, as a woman and also as a girl growing up, interacted with which seem to have a Rococo sensibility to them. I do not feel like that about many other art historical movements. That is why I landed on it. It was about a lot of different interests coming together.”

CH

Flora Yukhnovich, Siren Song, 2022.

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From the press release for the the exhibition now on view in London at Victoria Miro:

Flora Yukhnovich: Thirst Trap
Victoria Miro, London, 1–26 March 2022

Flora Yukhnovich is acclaimed for paintings that, fluctuating between abstraction and figuration, transcend painterly traditions to fuse high art with popular culture and intellect with intuition. While in the past she has adopted the language of Rococo, dynamically reimagining aspects of works by eighteenth-century artists such as Tiepolo, Boucher, Lancret, and Watteau, new paintings draw upon various depictions of the Roman goddess Venus in mythology, art history, and contemporary culture. Rather than focus on individual points of reference, each work synthesises a multitude of influences that convey the shifting representations and significations of Venus herself. Here the Venus who embodies idealised female form and is goddess of love, maternal care, sexual reproduction, and erotic desire, meets the Venus of violent origin and hybrid gender—promiscuous and vengeful.

In Greco-Roman mythology, Venus emerges fully formed when Cronus throws Uranus’s dismembered testicles into the sea; she is carried to land from the boiling spume in a shell. The artist says, “I was immediately drawn to the idea of her body being made of water… this fluidity of form feels like a very painterly concept to me, a bit like creating seemingly solid figures out of wet paint. There is a tendency for water and the sea to be spoken about as female—fluid and soft but also capricious and destructive. I like the potential for strength or force in that association and it’s something I try and bring to these paintings.”

Travelling back and forth through art, mythology and philosophy, and echoing Venus’s storied representations through time, Yukhnovich’s references are revealed to be equally as fluid. One influence is Rubens’s The Feast of Venus, 1636–37, in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which depicts the festivities of Veneralia—the ancient Roman festival celebrated on 1 April to honour Venus Verticordia, an epithet that alludes to the goddess’s ability to change hearts from lustful to chaste. Venus as an embodiment of propriety contrasts with her promiscuity in another source painting, Boucher’s Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan, c.1754, in the Wallace Collection, which captures the moment when Vulcan, on hearing of his wife’s infidelity with Mars, ensnares the adulterous couple in a golden net, inviting other gods to enjoy their humiliation.

Such divergent attributes are enfolded with allusions in contemporary culture, from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita to Doja Cat, which demonstrate the enduring potency of Venus as symbol and spirit. In Yukhnovich’s paintings these references are never revealed explicitly. Rather, they are conveyed compositionally or chromatically: variation is a driving force, her virtuosic mark-making—ranging from delicate flourishes to dramatic and muscular brushstrokes—heightens a sense of rhythmic sensuality. Bubbles—by definition one substance contained by another—are a recurring motif in these works; effervescent, capricious, unstable, or transformative, they denote changing states that mirror Venus’s turbulent arrival in mythology and her ever-shifting presence in culture thereafter. Paint, in Yukhnovich’s hands, becomes the perfect vehicle to conjure the multiplicity of a subject which, characterised by flux and transformation, is as elusive as it is seductive.

Born in 1990, Flora Yukhnovich completed her MA at the City & Guilds of London Art School in 2017. She had her first solo exhibition at Brocket, London, in December 2017 and has recently exhibited at Parafin, London, GASK, the Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region, Czech Republic, the Jerwood Gallery Hastings, and at Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds Arts University, UK. Previous solo exhibitions with Victoria Miro include The Venice Paintings and Barcarole, both held in 2020. Collections include Government Art Collection and The David Roberts Art Foundation. In 2018 she completed The Great Women Artists Residency at Palazzo Monti, Brescia. Work by the artist will feature in the survey exhibition Impressionism: A World View; Yukhnovich’s painting will be exhibited in galleries dedicated to ‘Contemporary Neo-Impressionists’, on view at The Nassau County Museum of Art, NY, from 19 March to 10 July 2022. In 2023 Yukhnovich will be the first artist to take part in a new series of solo exhibitions responding to the collections of The Ashmolean, Oxford, titled Ashmolean NOW.

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