Matthew Scott

An Aesthetic of Awe

Dashi Namdakov: A Nomad’s Universe at the Halcyon Gallery, 16th May – 7th July 2012.


“We were bound to fall in love,” a jaded Ulysses tells Penelope in a sonnet of Robert Lowell, “if only we stayed married long enough.” I found a loose version of these lines about a dying Western myth playing around my mind as I reflected on Westminster’s new sculptural installation at Marble Arch. Sixteen feet in height, it is monumental in size with the verdigris of its bronze, by turns smooth and rugged, arrestingly visceral as it clashes with the late spring greenery of Hyde Park. But this is Genghis Khan astride his charger who drops, apparently from heaven, on one place he can never have thought to capture. Do all of history’s most controversial figures get a chance at redemption provided they hang around the public consciousness long enough for the wheel of financial fortune to turn sufficiently far?

The charming curators of the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair certainly hope so. And although Genghis Khan retains a reputation as one of history’s most horrifying figures in some parts of the world – the scourge, according to many accounts, of both Arab and Iranian civilisation – the reaction of most passengers in their cars, looking up from Park Lane, will be, I suspect, a form of admiring bafflement. It is an undeniably striking, if somewhat surprising experience to witness the serene warrior fixed in transcendent contemplation of Oxford Street. But it is also curiously appropriate as central London continues to experience the repercussions of an undeniable shift in global power towards the East, with estate agents (as well as gallery owners, fund managers and football club executives) chasing the new wealth of Russia, China and Central Asia.

The sculpture, placed there by Westminster council, has drawn a mixed reaction in some quarters already, only a month after its arrival. After all, there remain those who view him as a figure roughly on a par with Uncle Joe. But there appeared to be few who weren’t converts to this version of the new conqueror of London, or indeed the greater vision of its creator, the Russian sculptor Dashi Namdakov, at the opening of a large retrospective of his last

decade’s work. The lake of champagne, of which there was some tell a short while back, must now be drained by the army of fashionistas who munched their way through endless exotic canapés, some topped with truffles, caviar and gold leaf. Namdakov’s chief aesthetic is awe and a copy of the Genghis Khan bursting upon the classically inspired, Edwardian gallery was remarkable. But up close the work is also more locally beautiful than is apparent at a distance and it is further clear that Namdakov is widely interested in the surface texture of his works.

Indeed, it is hard to resist caressing some of the most prized pieces – none more so than an extraordinary bull’s head carved from an enormous piece of lapis lazuli. It sits staring down at the gallery entrance from a blue room at the head of a distant flight of stairs, as though from the farthest chamber of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Namdakov is interested in the Buryat mythology of his native Siberia, in which the bull is revered; and one of the most powerful works is a vast and thrusting bronze one that seems destined surely for the forecourt of some great financial powerhouse should we ever return to more benign economic times. Still, I got the feeling wandering around that his target market is probably one that is relatively unworried by the interesting times in which we live. Namdakov’s heroes are gathered from beyond his homeland in order to render icons of power from all over the world. There is a rather terrifying Garuda – national symbol of Indonesia – a large dragon-like bird, oddly Welsh to my eye, and then there are Minotaurs, djinn-like creatures, warriors and symbols of fertility. The centaurs in particular caught my attention – perhaps because of their distance from the dignified metopes of the Parthenon. One is terrifying and speaks to the viewer of an almost unhinged power. It belongs, I was told, to a supremely significant Russian. I pressed my host but she would not be drawn.

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