Within the limited space of a modest venue, Levan Mindiashvili manages to convey in this exhibition a complex narrative of his early childhood in Tbilisi, Georgia. The show’s title, “what color is the Black Sea?,” a childish jest, alludes to a family seaside holiday when Mindiashvili was three years old, an occasion that the artist has identified as his first memory. For him, the event marks the beginning of consciousness—and self-consciousness—including the nascent moment of his queer identity.
The exhibition features the titular installation with numerous components—including live plants similar to those native to Georgia and a stone from the shore of the Black Sea—as well as several small oil-on-latex paintings (all 2021); some of these replicate floral patterns Mindiashvili recalls from a blanket he used as a child, and others present Georgian script in a format used to teach youngsters the letters of the alphabet.
Hanging from the ceiling in the center of the gallery is a scrim-like translucent latex curtain with a beige hue that approximates the artist’s skin tone. Most other components are hung low, placed on the ground, or slightly elevated on top of a narrow, face-up mirror, to suggest the viewpoint of a child. Thematically, the exhibition centers on a snapshot of the three-year-old Mindiashvili sitting naked and alone on the beach. It was an image his parents kept in a prominent place in a family photo album and often showed to visitors, mortifying him as a child. The image reappears several times in the show, most prominently on the fleshly curtain—a positive image is silkscreened on one side of the curtain, and a negative imprint on the reverse. Adding to the charged, gender-fluid tenor of the installation, ceiling-hung grow lights bathe the entire gallery in a feminizing, soft pink-purple light that also benefits a small tangerine tree in the center of the room.
Mindiashvili’s paintings, objects, and installations often explore identity in abstract, spatial terms, as in his 2014–17 project “Unintended Archeology of (un)Place.” A recent example is his installation “Levani’s Room: HOME,” presented by the gallery at last year’s SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York, for which Mindiashvili re-created intimate spaces of his apartment with photographs printed on sheer cloth scrims. “What color is the Black Sea?” is more ambitious in its scope and conceptual depth, especially in the way it evokes formative childhood experiences through a basically abstract visual language. The show’s mood is more meditative and melancholy than that of previous efforts, yet the artist also incorporates a number of humorous surprises. A video loop on an iPad, embedded within a child’s yellow-orange faux-fur pillow on the floor, shows a hedgehog moving across a lawn at night, referencing a similar scene that unfolded in Mindiashvili’s grandparents’ backyard after the seaside vacation. Similarly nostalgic and rather campy passages occur elsewhere in the show, as in the form of a small potted palm tree partially wrapped in a fake fur coat adorned with jewel-like crystals. In its own eccentric metaphorical terms, the work represents the artist’s mother.
Positioned at a child’s height on one wall, the show’s title appears in cursive white neon lettering that has been painted black on the front, so that the letters appear backlit by a halo of light. This poetic fragment corresponds to Glenn Ligon’s 2009 wall-hung neon work Untitled (America), in which block letters spelling the word “America” are painted black on the front side, allowing only limited illumination of the wall behind. Ligon’s work is a wry comment on segregation and America’s double standard of equality. Mindiashvili’s piece is a similarly potent statement about negation and rejection. It conveys a feeling of displacement and ostracization that for him began at age three on the shores of the Black Sea.