Łukasz Stokłosa ‘Perihelion’
20 October – 6 December
Amity Street Brooklyn NY

The château at Versailles began its existence as a hunting lodge so drab and mediocre that one courtier remarked that it “would not inspire vanity in even the simplest of gentlemen.” In time it would not only go on to become the most spectacular palace in all of Europe but quite literally the center of the universe.

Having grown up in the shadow of a chaotic civil war, with the aristocracy in open revolt against the Crown, King Louis XIV disarmed the nobility by drawing them close and forcing them to compete for his attention. Dictating fashion became one of the monarch’s most powerful tools to cow noblemen into submission and matters of elegance – what to wear, how to stand, whether to bow or salute - consumed the court entirely. To present oneself at one’s best not only secured one’s standing but also emphasized the vast distance between oneself and the centrality of their heavenly representative on Earth, their Sun King.

A “perihelion” is the closest point in a planet’s orbit that it ever comes in proximity to a star, and it’s this lonely, yearning arch that Łukasz Stokłosa traces in his work. His dimly lit paintings of dusty royal apartments, abandoned palace grounds, and faded icons capture the faint glow of a majesty that has long since vanished from this Earth. To return to Versailles today is to be confronted with both the Sun King’s grandeur and his absence. The Hall of Mirrors and the gardens by Le Nôtre remain timeless as ever, but they have also outlasted their primary purpose: they no longer exalt but merely exist, commanding rapture without anyone to heed its call.

After making pilgrimages to castles and cathedrals across Europe, Stokłosa has trained his eye on royal furnishings that have only managed to survive into our century as museum pieces. His effort as an artist is to return what preservationists explicitly set out to halt: a sense of age, wear, and lost time. No one will ride in the carriage of Napoli (2022) or sit on the fauteuils in The apartments of Napoleon III (2023) ever again, and in drawing attention to their recast role as art objects, Stokłosa reveals how useless these formerly functional have become. In the painting that lends his exhibition its title, Stokłosa fuses a composite of various royal gardens into an achingly beautiful but blurry and unresolved skyline, demonstrating in paint that the past is its own completely different country.
Underlying every aspect of the pomp and circumstance of life at Versailles was a profound sense of purpose. The most pointless day-to-day tasks demanded the most elaborate etiquette, with every fine detail imbued with subtle meaning. These were rituals that not only drew oneself closer to the Dauphin but also the ideal that he embodied. But what ideal has been lost? And can it ever be recreated? Stokłosa isn’t fussy with his approach to art history and locates as much latent meaning in grand halls as he does among porn stars and pop culture. The doomed wedding cake from Blake and Krystle’s short-lived marriage on Dynasty sits side-by-side with portraits of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ben Chaplin from the 1997 Henry James adaptation, Washington Square. Elsewhere, the bodies of adult film actors from old VHS tapes are depicted as fetish objects in both senses, hornily rendered vessels for longing. In moments like these, Stokłosa collapses the lofty and exalted with the campy and immediate, granting his work a halo of luxury that’s both funny and also a rejoinder: it’s impossible to recreate the glory of the past, but we will come back a great distance to the extraordinary in due course.

- Harry Tafoya, October 2023

Łukasz Stokłosa’s ‘Perihelion’ is on view at Amity through 6 December by appointment.