Konstantin Bessmertny: BESTIARIUM

Konstantin Bessmertny: BESTIARIUM

baron von ungern-sternberg by konstantin bessmertny

Konstantin Bessmertny

Baron von Ungern-Sternberg

Thursday, May 3, 2012Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hong Kong, China

6-10 SHIN HING STREET, NOHO, HONG KONG | www.ajc-art.com

Amelia Johnson Contemporary announces Konstantin Bessmertny: BESTIARIUM, a powerful exhibition of small paintings and three-dimensional work. Bessmertny’s latest exhibition takes its name from a compendium of beasts that was particularly popular in England and France around the 12th century. The illustrated volumes described various animals, birds and even fantastical creatures. Here Konstantin Bessmertny presents his own Bestiarium: a collection of 20 small oil paintings under the collective series title “Portraits of the Rich and Famous” and a powerful three-dimensional work.

These small, intimate portraits of politicians, philosophers, world leaders, film stars, who are recognizable and famous, are presented in monochrome and colour, perhaps exploring an unique, mundane aspect of their lives or a character trait that the person is not known for. In objectifying his subject matter, the artist is asking his audience to look at these personalities in a new light, perhaps to empathise with them, perhaps to ridicule them, but also to question and possibly rethink every preconceived notion that has previously been synonymous with this person’s fame. So here we have “Napoleon on Elba’ – rosy cheeked, enormously fat and healthy – a reference to the amazing living he experienced whilst in captivity. Here we have a Richter-esque Marilyn figure – ghostly and taking the stage in front of the President.

In contrast to the small oils is the artist’s titular work “Bestiarium”, a life size lion, Asian-esque, carved from wood and painted over with scenes and tracts of text from mediaeval life. Here Bessmertny depicts an imagined world populated with fantastical creatures and mythological people, moral stories and anecdotes for a twenty first century audience. This parallel universe that the artist creates is made all the more powerful by the juxtaposition of these simplistic, painterly oils with this giant lion, whose carved features terrify and mesmerize yet who draws the audience further into this parallel world to uncover the hidden messages contained within these works.

Bessmertny is a creature of boundaries between times, cultures and places. The effect is not lost on his works, which gleefully portray challenges of basic, almost universally accepted understandings of zeitgeist, history, and its heroes. Through his work Konstantin Bessmertny affords the viewer a delicious glimpse into a world that could so nearly exist and demonstrates, yet again, why he is one of the most exciting artists working in Asia today.


The title for this series of works was taken from the ancient, illustrated, medieval accounts describing creatures of another world where men existed as superior beings. Only a fraction of the terrestrial and marine life we know and recognize today had been discovered by the Middle Ages and I continue to question whether we have full knowledge of these animals even today.

We can describe the world around us in detail because of its proximity. Elements of the world that exist beyond our reach can only be discovered if we free our imaginations from any limitation. Though we often fail to recognize things in our contemporary times, “Bestiarium” is an attempt to re-construct something that we have missed within the known world and imagine something additional in the unknown.

At the center of the exhibition is a large wooden sculpture of a lion covered with graffiti-like images and quotes, mainly referencing something absurd in nature, covering all possible spheres of human interest and activity, clashing high and low, scholastic and popular cultures.

This series of small portraits in various mediums has the working title, “Rich & Famous” and is a descriptive account of well-known individuals and aspects of their lives and personalities we often fail to recognize.

Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum- I doubt, therefore I think I am. (Attributed to Rene Descartes)

Konstantin Bessmertny


Born in Blagoveshchensk, Russia, across the Amur River from Heihe, China, Bessmertny has spent the last seventeen years living in Macau’s Special Administrative Region. During that time he has risen to become one of its foremost artistic ambassadors, having represented the enclave in its premier pavilion in the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. His works are held in collections that include the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Macau, and the Standard Chartered Bank of Hong Kong; and have been exhibited in Museums that include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Fukuoka, Japan; the Museum of Art, Macau; and the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Founded in 2005 by Amelia Johnson, Amelia Johnson Contemporary has built up an enviable reputation for presenting carefully curated exhibitions. The gallery is dedicated to exhibiting groundbreaking international contemporary art in Hong Kong and to promoting young Hong Kong artists through spotlight exhibitions both in Hong Kong and overseas. The gallery has grown to such an extent that Gallery 2 of Amelia Johnson Contemporary was established at the start of 2011. Based in an old potter’s studio across the street from the main gallery space, Gallery 2 is an exciting new venue for showcasing site-specific installations and large scale single works. The gallery has participated in many international art fairs, including CIGE (Beijing), Arco (Madrid), ShContemporary (Shanghai), The Asian Art Fair (New York) Pulse (Miami) and ART HK (Hong Kong). www.ajc-art.com