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MYTH AND DREAM

by Emily Nathan
 
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Itís like a Pompeian courtyard, Sergei Isupovís "He + She" installation at Barry Friedman Ltd. in Chelsea, with busts on pedestals arrayed through the space. Observe one profile, however, and it becomes clear that these epic porcelain sculptures do not share much with their Classical Roman ancestors. Rather, Isupovís busts, and his other works, which bear titles such as Firey and History of Lovers, depict characters in some strange and wonderful folk-narrative.

For Isupovís subjects bear their souls on their faces. That is, the cheeks, foreheads and chins of his protagonists are meticulously painted with evocative figures, little flurries of meaning that dart back and forth across centuries like a tarantella dancer. Here the stroke seems Byzantine, there it is Baroque; here is a Netherlandish wench, there a Neo-classical foot. Overall, though, Isupovís touch is consistently precise, rendered expertly in layers of glaze and texture, with one built onto another like the pages of a story.

And that story is one with roots not dissimilar, say, to those of Marc Chagall, though almost a century later. Isupov was born in 1960s Russia, where the seed of artistic revolt against prescribed party ideology was only beginning to sprout, and educated in Estonia and Ukraine; in 1983 he emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, along with many of his contemporaries. On American soil, he found himself grappling with yet another set of cultural traditions, and struggling to integrate them into his already multifarious personal identity.

It is this ongoing negotiation of cultures and circumstances that we see operative in his artistic oeuvre. Each work is a conflation of myth, dream, reality, self, other, often to confounding effect. But it is precisely this expansive, sprawling quality -- offset by Isupovís meticulous technical execution -- which gives his work its significance, and draws them out from the shadowed cove of personal allusion into the light of universal power.

Sergei Isupov, "He + She," Nov. 12, 2010-Jan. 22, 2011, at Barry Friedman Ltd. Sculptures range in price from $20,000 to $50,000; works in charcoal on paper are priced in the $10,000 range.


EMILY NATHAN is a New York-based writer who contributes to Artforum.com, Planet and Artslant.