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Peril of Greed

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Date Minted:  November 7, 2020

Artist Description: The temptation of exploitation will be the fall of humankind. Oil on canvas 

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

This is a new side to Klara Vollstaedt’s artistry. I know the artist, of course: Her works of 3D sculpture are some of the most emotionally-affecting and well-composed in the entire crypto art space. Many of them futuristic, many of them centering robotics, many of them weaving universal questions about identity into their technological visuals, Klara Vollstaedt’s work has very few imitators…not many can even pretend to do what she does. In Peril of Greed, minted by Vollstaedt back in November of 2020, she takes a detour from her 3D sculptures and opts instead for oil painting, though never straying from her commentary on futurism. In Peril of Greed, the future doesn’t appear as readily and obviously as it does in her works exploring robots, or those which explore the splicing of human and machine parts, but make no mistake, it’s there! There’s quite an interesting juxtaposition in Peril of Greed between modern concepts —ecological warfare, over-pollution, etc.— and classical stylings, not just in the fact that the piece itself is an oil painting, but the way Biblical images are centered: the bearded man and the fruit of knowledge, for example. Glancing at it as I have previously, I didn’t pick up on the depth and the subtext within the piece, nor the density of the imagery. But that’s an effect, I might argue, of the nature of oil painting itself: We as art connoisseurs have an ingrained and well-defined relationship with the style, such that we fill in a piece’s meaning based on immediate experience with it, similarly to how we cn gss wrd’s cntnt wtht thr vwls. Vollstaedt seems to deliberately play on this tendency of ours, creating a piece that not only grows in intensity the longer we look at it, but forces us to reflect on our own perception as we notice all the things we might have originally missed.

The reason such an effect works is because Peril of Greed doesn’t hide either its meaning or its many details. This is not a Where’s Waldo picture. But we gloss over more intricate details of the composition because those things which are more immediately recognizable —the old man, the paint itself— are automatically placed in an internal context, one which encourages us to make certain allusions and draw certain conclusions. To me, the most powerful and most obvious allusion herein is the religious one. The man at the center of Vollstaedt’s Peril of Greed seems a classically Judeo-Christian figure, and he is splayed out naked across nearly all of the piece. He does not seem shocked or disgusted by the shocking and disgusting landscape around him, but somehow annoyed. As if at us! Looking directly at us, it is conceivable to believe he’s perturbed by our presence, as if we’ve come upon him in a vulnerable state, which I suppose we have. There he is in the nude, a nipple exposed, the creases of his belly cut across his abdomen like sword wounds. We can’t see the top of his head, only the latent flows of his white hair, and the scraggly Santa Clause beard which encamps upon most of his face. He is captured in bright colors, and with the composition itself so dark, we find our eyes drawn away from the reality of the man’s situation, drawn towards him and the outstretched arm which extends in front of him, which holds between its fingers an orange fruit dripping with foul black liquid. 

And that’s kind of our entry point into what’s really going on here. Vollstaedt has a savant’s mastery over composition, and she deftly directs our attention from place to place. We pingpong from the man to the hand to the fruit to the oil slick upon it. Now, our eyes literally adjusted to darker hues, the physically darker and less bombastic aspects of the piece reveal themselves. The dead goose with its slack neck slung over the man’s thighs. The putrid and polluted bits of garbage around his submerged legs: a can, a bottle, a plastic bag. And what are his legs submerged in? Bile. Sewage. Sludge. A veritable brown sea of fetid gunk that extends all the way back to the top sliver of the piece, where a distant and abstract cityscape is lit up via yellow and red windows, unaware of the ecological devastation just outside of it. In the man’s hand is a blue container filled with spilling oil; it leaks out of the container and down the man’s forearm.

I think the quasi-religious iconography is key here. I think we’re very much meant to equate the bearded old man and the fruit before him with Biblical allusions to God himself, to Adam and Eve with the Tree of Knowledge; indeed that was another story which centered around temptation, perhaps even the best known example of such a cautionary tale. As Vollstaedt says in her Artist Description, “The temptation of exploitation will be the fall of man.” There’s a brilliant synergy in linking allusions to the first man, Adam, with the last man: Could that be who we’re seeing here? Drowning in his own filth —as we may one day drown in ours— and only too late becoming perturbed about it. 

He’s as distracted as we are, this man who can’t take his metaphorical eyes off of that which is shiny and recognizable before him, and so he remains blind to the reality of his station. And thus, Peril of Greed is an emulation of its own aesthetics.

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