Maja Ruznic
The World Doesn’t End
June 26–August 23, 2024
Opening reception Wednesday, June 26
5–7 pm 188 East 2nd Street
6–8 pm 22 East 2nd Street

22 & 188 East 2nd Street
New York

Karma presents The World Doesn’t End, an exhibition of new oils and gouaches by Maja Ruznic, open from June 26 to August 23, 2024, at 22 and 188 East 2nd Street.

Ruznic’s unmediated, improvisational paintings portray alternate worlds in which figures merge with their mutating environments. Titled after a 1990 book of prose poetry by Charles Simic, who, like Ruznic, hails from former Yugoslavia, the new exhibition—gouaches at 188 East 2nd Street and large-scale oil paintings at 22 East 2nd Street—illustrates Ruznic’s visions of life enduring in the face of adversity. As one world is destroyed, another begins, and with it new truths are revealed. 

Color is the starting point for each of Ruznic’s compositions—through her associations of hues with particular feelings and memories, she arrives at her symbolically-loaded palettes. Her gouaches, painted with luminous layers at an intimate scale on thick pieces of handmade Khadi paper, become an encyclopedia of tones and forms that she draws on when conceptualizing her oils. Once Ruznic organizes these gouaches into groups by color, ideas for immersive canvases emerge into being—as Ara Osterweil writes in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, “works on paper are not ancillary to Ruznic’s practice; they are primordial.” 

Layering gauzy passes of oil, she builds strata of memories and associations into each painting. Arrival of Wild Gods II (all works 2023) is predominantly yellow, a color Ruznic connects at once to warmth and comfort and to corrosive acidity. For the artist, who fled her home country of Bosnia with her family to escape the genocide that began in 1992, becoming part of the largest exodus in Europe since World War II, yellow is tied emotionally to the three years she spent in an Austrian refugee camp during her childhood. Arrival of Wild Gods II assembles a cast of characters, drawn from her subconscious, into a royal procession of mystic beings. The longer one looks at this work, the more faces emerge from the marigold-and-auburn landscape, all oriented toward an unknown destination. Ruznic associates the green-and-black palette of Geometry of Sadness with her early childhood, spent living in a small, mint-hued house with her extended family. The figurative feet inside of a framing rectangle decorated with letters that spell out the names of Bosnian dishes echo the many L-shaped forms that stomp around the work’s perimeter in an infinite loop that speaks to displacement’s disquieting recurrence. 

The Dark Place of Star Lines and Electricity captures a vision that came to Ruznic in the wake of a holotropic breath workshop. Arcing lines like umbilical cords connect figures across the phantasmagoric scene, building a network of linked beings. Like Simic’s poems, Ruznic’s paintings are both surreal and maintain glimpses of the familiar; the free-floating body parts that populate The Dark Place of Star Lines and Electricity evoke Simic’s description of how “the high heavens were full of little shrunken deaf ears instead of stars.” The kaleidoscopic On the Other Side completes the tetrad, employing a wide spectrum of colors to picture another group of entities, now engaged in a hedonistic revelry reminiscent of the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490–1500), described by art historian Wilhelm Fraenger as “a feast of metamorphoses.” In the center of Ruznic’s painting, below the sun hovering along a horizon line, a formless couple kisses, surrounded by onlookers whose bodies twist in ecstasy. As the world seems, once again, to end, Ruznic reminds us that the edge of destruction offers hope for renewal, and that trauma itself can at times initiate transformation.

At 4 pm on June 26, the day of the exhibition’s opening, Karma will host a public discussion between Ruznic and Cecilia Alemani, Donald R. Mullen Jr. Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art.