It was in Zurich, circa 2002. The three of us went to a piano bar named Sylvie. The coasters had roses printed on them. We didn’t listen to the music but chatted about this and that instead. It was good to have Rita in town. She brought some air from New York with her. It wasn’t surprising to me that she and Andro, after participating in a group show together at Kunsthalle Basel, had instantly become friends.
It always felt good to be around Andro. He spoke a few scraps of German, but you could tell that he had a lot to say. He looked like a young god. From the beginning, I felt sympathy for him and his work. I then went to his studio. He showed me a pile of small drawings with an uncanny combination of robots, fast cars, and portraits of him and his brother as children.
Some of them were colored in bright tones. Andro had a flair for making lines into patterns, and he knew how to turn them into art. He had this unique way of getting into the zone. The movements of his hands became suddenly refined and directed. Occasionally, he paused for a moment and moved a step backward, bent his head sideways, and examined what he had just accomplished. To make art seemed an enjoyable, almost natural thing to him. The floor of the studio was covered with snippets of photographs and magazine pages. He paired found imagery with photos of his family. He had so many of them. It seemed that they never made it into a family album. They felt like an exploded view of the past. Although he was younger than me, his childhood photographs emanated a patina. They appeared to stem from an elegant era, documents from a golden age in a place that was magic. His way of making art was detached from the extreme acceleration of the incoming Internet age. It felt at once classical but radical. The colors were one of a kind, like an acid trip processed by an artist’s brain.
For an art history student, contemporary art was nowhere to be encountered at university. Once, it must have been in 1995, a fellow student asked me if I wanted to attend an opening at a local gallery with a good reputation. Large, raw canvases were on display. Painted figurines, delineated by simple black brushstrokes and representing mysterious nymphets, caught my eye. When Rita introduced herself, the resemblance of her characteristics to the painted figures became instantly manifest. The works contained fragments of narratives, moments of attraction, repulsion, cruelty; it was as if I were watching a tribe of little nymphs taking over the world. Rita had both refinement and street credibility. When she painted a faux stained glass window of a postapocalyptic paradise for the New Museum’s storefront space in the summer of 1994, Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth witnessed its genesis and commissioned her to paint his upcoming solo album cover.
My encounter with Rita awakened an interest in contemporary art that to this day never came to an end. Little did I know that I would become a curator and have the opportunity to work with both artists for almost twenty years. When I curated a traveling show, I invited Rita and her friend Lizzi Bougatsos to perform with their collective, Angelblood. They hosted a dinner in Kraichtal in the middle of nowhere, roasted a pig, and staged a sabbath feast with musical accompaniment.
Years later, she collaborated with her friend the film director Harmony Korine, where both artists worked on the same pieces, alternating. She always had projects, collaborations, was part of collectives. The parties in her Lower East Side apartment were a gathering of the best downtown artists. She seemed to wear many hats: Rita the master artist, the muse, the model, the singer, the mother, the friend, and frequently the collaborator.
The first team play of Andro and Rita was a fanzine in 2003 that they called Chapter. The first issue has become something of a mystery, as it is nearly impossible to track down a copy. Back in the day, landline and fax were the ordinary channels of communication. Following the path of a domino game, each sent a page that was countered by the other in response. A one-of-a-kind transatlantic conversation took place, image following image until one hundred pages were accomplished and released.
But what it is that makes their collaboration so unique? Their friendship? A similar sensibility? The shared artistic vision? Without stepping into the trap of Soviet nostalgia from a Western perspective, their respective native countries, close to Russia, come to mind. But maybe more so the chance to formulate a vision independently from any outside voices. Rita and Andro, with only a few years in between, both migrated to countries where they first had to get acquainted with language and style of life. Rita arrived in New York in 1992 after having left her native Hungary. Andro attended the National Art School in Georgia as a child and ended up in Switzerland as a teenager in 1995. Both of them studied in places that were, in their approach, slightly anachronistic. Both of them departed from an academic standpoint to eventually go beyond the limitations it came with.
While the drawn line played a significant role in their early work, they both accepted the challenge to become painters. After years of practice, they masterfully command the medium’s plasticity. Through translucent layers of colors, they create spatial effects. Their compositions are ambitious and often contain several contradictory layers of information, creating a complex web of imagery that makes a simple reading impossible.
Independent from any trend, they both push the envelope of what figurative painting can represent. Their friendship and a shared passion for art are the basis for a collaboration that eventually goes without words. This sheer intuitive approach becomes palpable in the dialogue between the works in this book.