Of the Flesh: the Art of Andrew Krasnow

In the light of recent political turbulences in the US, GV Art’s director Robert Devčić has decided to curate an exhibition of a politically engaged Andrew Krasnow. This American artist of Jewish background has been voicing political criticism for over two decades and his work has been, and indeed still is, very controversial.

Krasnow’s controversiality lies primarily in the choice of medium for his works, namely human skin. I am not surprised that many people have a problem with accepting such a radical approach to art installations and in the past the artist has already been pressured to withdraw his work form exhibitions.

There were complaints about Krasnow’s Flag From Flag Poll (1990) which consisted of an interactive American flag made of dyed human skin straps sewn together, placed on an I-beam and ‘responding’ in a gesture ‘reminiscent of a Nazi salute’. The work was conceived in the light of the Gulf War and was too much to swallow for politicians so the flag was withdrawn.

In response, Krasnow cut out pieces of his own flesh and sewed it in the seventeenth star of this very flag to, as explained the curator, ‘reconnect with the artwork’. The flag, among other pieces, can be seen at the current London exhibition.

Personally, I went to view it with mixed expectations, driven mostly by curiosity. I was not let down but the works reverberated in my consciousness for reasons different than expected. I was not repulsed by the medium nor did I feel that some ethic boundaries had been broken. On the contrary, the pieces somehow evoked tenderness; crafted with care and respect and carefully displayed to concentrate maximum attention from the viewer.

What hit me then is not the use of skin as such but it’s metaphorical meaning touching on the subjects like commoditisation of the human body, power relations in the US, freedom of expression and economic exploitation.

The Apollo Series (1992) is a perfect example of a clever contemplation of the US expedition to the moon and the fact that ‘in the name of humanity’ they stuck an American flag in its ground. The artist questions political expansion of the country, disregarding the consequences for humans as well as for natural environment.

Other symbols of long-lasting oppression and greed found in the gallery are: a baseball cap with a bullet hole, ‘Shitkickers’ cowboy boots and a toothed hamburger or a ‘Bill holder’, as it was, empty inside. My favourite work in this series is an installation called Fist (1999) which alludes to the use of religious slogans and the propaganda of martyrdom as political devices.

What I find particularly appealing in Andrew Krasnow’s works is his ability to combine utterly personal experiences with mundane ones, paving the road of world political and economic decisions with straps of very human flesh. Subtle yet explicit. A must see.

Of the Flesh by Andrew Krasnow is showing until January 17
GV Art
49 Chiltern Street
Marylebone W1U 6LY

Monday to Saturday 11am – 7pm

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3 Responses

  1. There was also an exhibition of real human body parts that had been specially treated, allowing you to see every bit of anatomy.

    Don’t know if it’s related…

  2. frances

    This show is so so so different to the bodyworks exhibition mentioned by John Belo in previous comment.

    I was deeply touched by this exhibition in a way that I was not expecting. A gentle, visceral, spiritual experience. Courageous and sensitive.

    Inivotive and thoughtful curation creates a profound experience….
    which touches the six senses, mind, body, spirit. Physically affecting, mentally provocative and emotionally moving.

    Of The Flesh filled me with respect for the human condition – its frailty and vulnerability, its boundaries (skin), its bravery and strength…

    Highly Recommended.

  3. lara

    When I first heard that Andrew Krasnow had made a collection of art entirely from human skin, I was irritated assuming it was just another shock-tactic to get publicity.

    I was wrong. Andrew Krasnow started making art from human skin acquired “through legal and simple means” almost 20 years ago in the lead up to the Gulf War. Krasnow made an American flag entirely of human skin which asking the viewer were they “willing to show blind allegiance to the flag?” The work was censored because Andrew voiced his fear that the war “would not be conducted openly and in a way that was moral and ethical.” When cultural centres in America refused to show the flag because it questioned political leaders the irony simply proved that America had essentially become a dictatorship and many lives had and would be lost not in defence of liberty but to keep an autocratic regime in power.

    I also learnt that Krasnow’s attachment to skin as a medium for his art was not random but informed by painful personal experience. When he was 5 years old, his sister suffered third degree burns in a fire in which she saved the lives of two other children. Both Andrew’s parents endured agonizing and repetitive skin grafting to help their daughter but she died. Andrew’s childhood memories are therefore steeped of the importance

    There are other works in “Of The Flesh” that demonstrate the distastefulness of consumerism like a hamburger made from skin and filled with teeth; this point is further illustrated by the fact that none of the skin works are for sale.

    These are not abstract works. The messages are clear and powerful which I appreciate finding much of abstract (often a euphemism for “lazy”) art where a red line on a black canvas is supposed to represent the theory of evolution, without a monkey in sight, akin to The Emperor‘s New Clothes. Krasnow’s work is direct; there are bullets wrapped in skin, a pair of skin cowboy boots and a baseball cap and to every piece of this artwork he adds some skin grafted from him in a surgical procedure.

    I did not find “Of the Flesh” eerie; skin looks like leather and the integrity of the work surpasses its unusual medium. In this comprehensive, detailed collection, a range of installments illustrate powerful political and religious statements as well as spiritual sentiments. Romance and gentleness are found in a delicate pair of angel wings and my favourite piece; “Soul Loss” where a small, saddened, embryonic figure is hunched over, eyes to the sky, tip-toeing tentatively forward in search of their errant soul. Whilst this image is emblematic of many of us who are somehow disenfranchised from their soul, it demonstrates Andrew Krasnow is someone with a clear connection to his.

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