Whitehot Magazine

July 2011, Nir Hod @ Paul Kasmin Gallery

Nir Hod, Genius, Installation view at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2011
Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery


Nir Hod: Genius
Paul Kasmin Gallery
293 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10001-7003
May 19 through June 18, 2011

The essence of genius is often unrecognizable and only surfaces to broad visibility through repeated publicity. However Nir Hod’s recent show of new work at the Paul Kasmin Gallery titled Genius suggests that unique, youthful intelligence is more than a consequence of strong public relations. By utilizing the genre of traditional oil portraiture, Hod explores the mythology and mystery behind this concept, exhibiting a series that numbers to over two-dozen portraits of anonymous children. The artist also sets these elaborate representations within wooden frames – some with gold-leaf - that are hung salon-style, transforming the gallery into its own hall of fame.

Two sculptures first appear at the center of each room, symbolizing the vacuous irony behind children who have been raised as puppet youths. Father and Son, (2011) seen first, captures a middle-aged man kneeling down to embrace his son, who appears to lean away, uncomfortable at this close proximity. Genius, (2010) on the other hand, is a small 2-foot tall bronze figure of an androgynous child whose self-absorbed gaze parallels the glowing cigarette filter nestled in one hand. The act of smoking, deadly to young health, is a central motif of this show, possibly signifying the lives of those who live hard and die young.

Every title of the oil portraits, except Helena, (2010) contains the word ‘genius’. Genius ‘Otto’, (2010) for instance, captures the inquisitive expression of a dark-haired youth, whose neck is ensconced with a thick fur collar. A tiny hand emerges in the foreground, clutching a cigarette. Genius ‘Laurens’, (2010) has long, platinum blonde hair reflecting the savvy of a rock star. One after another, these voguish historic-looking portraits pose more questions than answers – particularly, who are these people? Hod’s combination of unknown children with adult behavior suggests that genius is brief, transient and delicate.

Although each baby face initially belies innocence, such decadent details - like a sneer on the upper lip, a scowl and a cigarette dangling from one hand - suggest that these youths are both virile and independent, rather than vulnerable and weak. As Hod stated in a phone interview, “When you are too beautiful, you become lonely. It’s about being very attractive and very untouchable.” These faces of fresh defiance first bring to mind the early vaudeville stars such as Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton, Gypsy Rose, Judy Garland, Charlie Chaplin, Carl Switzer and most recently Michael Jackson. But then a few more names such as Klaus Nomi, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Alexander McQueen slowly emerge as the discourse of iconic legend begins to write itself.

With the pressure to render the perfect performance, many of these stars used a regular rotation of painkillers to cushion the side effects of stress, pain and fatigue. Balance occurred through an even stream of uppers and downers. How far does one have to fall before considered a success? “Genius,” according to Nir Hod, “lasts for a short time. It’s a kind of beauty or knowledge that is very special that is hard to find. It’s always going to be very dark since you can only find it through loneliness, but it is beautiful in a romantic way.”

Andy Warhol once stated that everyone was subject to 15 minutes of fame. The general shock and awe in response to early, unexpected deaths has always resulted in a nostalgia that is tinged with fear and longing, which the culture industry continues to grow from. In fact the general public’s access to the phenomenon of genius appears on the coat tails of fame.

Tom Payne’s FAME inquires: “Have you ever given someone ‘Intimately Beckham for Her’? Did you ever receive ‘Lovely’ by Sarah Jessica Parker? If so, how did you feel?” Contemporary culture does not spend time looking at likeness but, rather, assumes the likeness through conspicuous consumption, which has presented impersonation as a way of life. However, Nir Hod’s exhibition is far more poignant and touches on the fact that genius is not only about an isolated, extravagant personality but in the artist’s words, “it is a lot about taste and decoration that is about to disappear from the world.” Genius is often invisible when alive, but the list of names, who have been considered unique and visionary after death, is endless.


Nir Hod, Genius (Salvador), 2010
Oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 20 3/4 inches; 72.4 x 52.7 cm
Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery


Nir Hod, Genius “Dorian”, 2011
Oil on canvas

Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

Nir Hod



Jill Conner

Jill Conner is an art critic and curator based in New York City. She is currently the New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and writes for other publications such as Afterimage, ArtUS, Sculpture and Art in America.  

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