With a taste for new art and old buildings and a love of hard work, Mina Litinsky was one of the handful of people who invented LoDo as an entertainment district. She opened a pioneering business there, the Sloane Gallery (1612 17th Street, 303-595-4230), in the early 1980s — before Coors Field or any signs of nightlife existed in the neighborhood.
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But that wasn't Litinsky's only then-cutting-edge idea: She also started to promote the "unofficial" art of the Soviet Union, and in that she was right on time — not just in Denver, but internationally, as the artists involved were about to revolutionize contemporary art with conceptual realism.
Sloane is currently presenting Genia Chef: Glory of a New Century, which highlights recent work by this established Russian emigré artist who divides his time between Western Europe and America. Chef was born in exile as a result of his father's "anti-Soviet" activities, but when he was still a small child, the family was allowed to move back to Moscow, where Chef trained as a painter in the official Socialist realist style. He came to the West in 1985 and soon developed his signature approach, which he calls "post-historical."
Stylistically, some of Chef's paintings combine realist elements set against indefinite grounds that lend his work a surrealistic quality, while others are straightforwardly representational depictions of enigmatic subjects, like a pair of shoes on a rock in the middle of the ocean. But the most significant pieces involve historical figures like Lenin, Stalin and, oddly enough, Mussolini, who are used to illustrate the failure of their respective ideologies. In one of the most important paintings in the show, "The Decline of Europe," Mussolini is seen triumphant over Islam, recalling the war for Libya between fascist Italy and Ottoman Turkey, which could be seen as the beginning of the current conflicts between the West and the Middle East.
The paintings in this exhibit were recently on view at the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg and caused controversy there owing to some of the figures that are depicted. The Sloane, though small and intimate, features many Chef paintings, so his accomplishments are showcased in depth. Genia Chef runs through June 10.