Rossi & Rossi presents Deity of Doubt, an exhibition of new works by Russian-born, Macau and Hong Kong–based artist Konstantin Bessmertny. Featuring paintings and sculptures, the works are inspired by the cards of the major and minor tarot arcana.
The title of the exhibition, Deity of Doubt, references Descartes’s dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum (‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am’) and examines the confluence of the spiritual and the traditional with the contemporary and the secular in modern society. In these works, the tarot deck is a vehicle in which Bessmertny can—through the use of religious symbolism, the occult and semiotics, and by referencing art history, literature and high and low culture—create intellectually playful, sometimes absurd, works of art that explore the hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies of contemporary and popular culture.
The painting The High Priestess (2016) is based on the controversial tarot card of the same name, which is sometimes referred to as ‘the Popess card’. The card itself is believed to reference Pope Joan, who, according to a popular medieval legend, disguised herself as a man and rose through the church hierarchy, eventually being elected as pope. In this work, the socalled ‘Popess’ is depicted enthroned and wearing the papal tiara along with other papal vestments. While historians largely agree that Pope Joan did not exist, there are some who still believe that there was a female pope, and that there was a subsequent cover-up by the Catholic Church. Surrounding the central figure are the phrases ‘white collar conspiracy’, ‘blue collar conspiracy’ and ‘redneck conspiracy’, as well as references to Freemason symbolism, including the Eye of Providence and the Boaz and Jachin pillars, which stood at the entrance to Solomon’s Temple (incidentally, also an iconographic feature of the High Priestess card in some tarot decks). According to Bessmertny, it is an interesting legend that draws to mind many recent firsts, such as the first black US president, and potentially the first female US president.
These accomplishments were not without their own conspiracy theories. Jack of Diamonds (Left Is Right) (2015) and Jack of Hearts (Right Is Wrong) (2015) are two of a number of sculptural works created by the artist. Comprised of boxing gloves cast in bronze, a new medium for the artist, the works are reminiscent of the gloves worn by Charlie Chaplin during a boxing match in the film City Lights (1931), which was arguably the peak in the actor’s career (before controversy surrounding his left-leaning political views found him increasingly out of favour with the American public). Through these works and the phrases in their titles, ‘left is right’, ‘right is wrong’, Bessmertny comments on the ever-changing political landscape that allows for political leanings to be viewed as ‘trends’: “it was cool and progressive to be a leftist in the early twentieth century; Hollywood writers and intellectuals were all left leaning back then, and left was considered ‘right’ until the time came for the right, and the left of Russia became wrong”. The works are a commentary on the use of simplistic dichotomies in political discourse: right vs. left, good vs. bad, East vs. West.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a limited-edition deck of tarot cards illustrating each work.
Konstantin Bessmertny was born in 1964 in Blagoveshchensk, in the former USSR. He is now based in Macau and Hong Kong, and is one of the most distinguished artists working in Asia today. His technical mastery, achieved after seven years of studying fine art in the grand academies of the former Soviet Union, combined with his detailed knowledge on a wide range of subjects—including literature, music, history and politics—lend his work exceptional intelligence and credibility.
Bessmertny’s work has been the subject of solo museum exhibitions, including 365: A Work a Day, at the Museu do Oriente, Lisbon (2014); Tempos de Grande Ignorancia—Trabalhos de Konstantin Bessmertny, at the Macau Museum of Art (2012); and Konstantin Bessmertny:
Recent Works at the Macau Museum of Art (2007). Bessmertny was a finalist for the 2006 Sovereign Asian Art Prize; he represented Macau at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007.
The artist’s work is included in numerous public and private collections; notably, the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou; Museum of Art, Macau; Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong; Mandarin Oriental, Macau; Fundação Oriente, Macau; BCM (Banco Comercial de Macau), Macau; Casino Lisboa (SJM Holding Limited), Macau; and Kee Club, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Rossi & Rossi was founded in London in 1985 by Anna Maria Rossi, who was joined in 1988 by her son, Fabio. The gallery today is amongst the leading representatives for contemporary artists from the Asia-Pacific region. Operating spaces in both London and Hong Kong, Rossi & Rossi has garnered a reputation for supporting artists whose work addresses the protean struggle between the individual and structures of power—
be they governments, institutions or societies. From Iran to Pakistan, India, Tibet, Cambodia and Hong Kong, these artists produce work as diverse as their countries of Konstantin Bessmertny, Jack of Diamonds origin, but are all engaged in the exploration of the visual language of art that comments upon our world and the artist, the individual and the wider society—the links and the gulfs between us. They enlighten, clarify, confuse, bemuse and amuse, transforming experience into something new.
- Konstantin Bessmertny, The High Priestess, 2016. Courtesy of Rossi & Rossi and the artist.
- Konstantin Bessmertny, The Hierophant, 2016. Courtesy of Rossi & Rossi and the artist.