In Eastern and Central Europe, the past has been defined by political disputes and forced reinterpretations. Depending on the political regime of the moment, some aspects of the past are put under the spotlight while others fall victim to a collective amnesia and denegation. Daniel Pitín’s paintings are inquiries into this erosion of memories and their often violent rewriting. In his painterly approach, the artist frequently deconstructs urban spaces, archival photographs, film scenes, and architectural interiors. He tries to uncover the discrepant layers of memory and the historical conflict behind them. Pitín reveals the uncanny nature of the iconic spaces such as Mies van der Rohe’s villa Tugendhat; he portrays the rough historical unconscious of smooth modernist interiors.
The Time Machine, Pitín’s fourth exhibition with Nicodim and his first in New York, moves further away from the interior spaces by focusing instead on the relationship between light and volume in an open, natural environment. The artist evokes two different times: a dystopic future full of drones and odd flying surveillance objects and the fragmented memories of the past. In the painting Time Machine (2022), Pitín places an assemblage of geometrical bodies in a chaotic and organic painterly space composed of large brushstrokes, ink stains, and scraps of old yellowed newspaper sealed in acrylic resin. The artist acts as if—at least for a brief moment—he was trying to stop the passing of time and fix the memory of an image on the canvas. This combination of oil paint and a crust of acrylics, paper, and dust introduces two different temporalities within Pitín’s artworks and gives them a peculiar quality recalling the deteriorated surface of a badly preserved archival photograph, or layers of ripped street posters.
In the paintings Little Red Riding Hood (2023) and Pilgrim (2023), the artist decomposes figures into basic geometrical bodies, which can remind of canonic avant-garde pieces as Oskar Schlemmer’s 1922 The Triadic Ballet. However, for Pitín, these geometries epitomize neither hope for a better future, nor the “new man” of the avant-garde art. The paintings explore the tension between the longing for a modernist ideal and its impossibility in the present moment ridden by anxiety and violence. The artist confronts two opposite visual traditions: a well-controlled constructivist arrangement of volumetric bodies (cylinders, spheres, cones, and drums), which he often paints according to real architectural models placed in his Prague studio, and the organic open space that seems reminiscent of the Central European landscape painting of the end of the nineteenth century. Human subjects fall victim to this tension; they are deprived of their faces as if in this contradictory space, there was no place for human individuality. The figure in Night Bar (2023) might recall Naum Gabo’s 1916 sculpture Constructed Head n. 2, but unlike Gabo, Pitín does not seek to convey a single hint of facial expression—the painting itself is an anti-portrait. The artist’s post-apocalyptic landscapes and uncanny paradises convey anxiety about the presence of foreign unexplainable objects invading an all too familiar space and melancholia about the unrealized historical possibilities. For Pitín, the future intersects with the past and the past with the future. His paintings are strange time machines.
— Jana Berankov
Daniel Pitín (b. 1977, Prague, Czechoslovakia) is a leading figure among the generation of artists to have emerged since the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. He received his education from the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague, Czech Republic in 2001, and continues to live and work in Prague. Recent exhibitions include The Time Machine, Nicodim, New York (2023, solo); Sommerkino, Czech Center, Berlin (2022, solo); A Race of Peeping Toms, Nicodim, Los Angeles (2020, solo); A Paper Tower, Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague (2019, solo); Formal Encounters, Galeria Nicodim, Bucharest (2018); Broken Windows, House of Art, České Budejovice (2018, solo); Grotto, Charim Gallery, Vienna (2018, solo); Crystal Gardens, GRIMM, Amsterdam (2017, solo); The Mechanical Flowers, Nicodim, Los Angeles (2017, solo). Pitín is collected by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Knoxville Museum of Art, and his solo institutional exhibitions include Cover Story, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (2012); and After the Fall, Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill and the Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville (2011).
Daniel Pitín: The Time Machine is presented by Nicodim in collaboration with Czech Center New York.