John Michael Rusnak: Fear of Nostalgia



Fear of Nostalgia

May 17, 2013 – July 12, 2013


Los Angeles, May 9, 2013 - KM Fine Arts announces Fear of Nostalgia, John Michael Rusnak’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. Rusnak’s iconic series of six magnificent triptychs represent the culmination of more than 100 days spent in Cuba. Although entirely shot in Cuba, the images are universal symbols provoking a reflection on the necessity of equality and equity among people. As the Modernist movement viewed art as a guide for writing, Rusnak’s interpretations by the inspired writings of Plato, Gandhi, and Cuban José Martí became the basis for his exhibition.  Fear of Nostalgia is Rusnak’s attempt to stimulate the viewer of humanity’s pervasive lack of historical reflection that seems to prevent a racially balanced, equal and unified existence for all mankind.


NO SOIL IS FOREIGN by Doug McClemont.

History and Humanity in the work of John Michael Rusnak


“As artists, we plant seeds,” states John Michael Rusnak, an individual whose longtime passion for the notion of a global humanity has given rise to this memorable exhibition. Ideas that might flower within the viewer are indeed sown throughout. Rusnak, with his knack for creating artworks that are simultaneously poignant and mysterious, has given us a kind of secret handshake, a gesture that he hopes will contribute to a race of beings who are fertile, durable and most of all equal. 

Picture this: a small motorcade of official cars in Cuba. It’s 2011 and a flashing light on the vehicle carrying the Minister of Defense announces the event. Rusnak, his distinguished colleague Dr.Ivan A. Schulman (who was instrumental in bringing this occasion to fruition), filmmaker Beth Bischoff and Rusnak’s artist/assistant Sasha das Gupta; after having unraveled the necessary red tape to gain the imprimatur of the government, are being escorted to the casting and photo shoot. Rusnak has been looking forward to this moment for several months, having created storyboards of the images and staged them in his mind’s eye dozens of times. Young girls line up to be photographed for Moncadistas and are told in Spanish by the American Rusnak to pose as if thinking, “I am a strong woman. I am the future of Cuba.” The casual confidence on the faces of the beautiful young subjects is impossible to miss. Cadets from the triptych entitled Acrónimo are rigidly posed and instructed to contemplate the notion, “I believe in my mind, but Cuba has my heart.” The effect is startling, as Rusnak manages to capture these men in the act of becoming a part of a universal whole, while retaining the impression that each has his own fears, loves, and individual sense of pride.

The six magnificent triptychs in the exhibition “Fear of Nostalgia” represent the culmination of Rusnak’s more than 100 days spent in Cuba, though he sees them as timeless and even cross-cultural. Certainly the images have an inescapable political charge, but topical issues and the vagaries of international policy, profound as they are, were never his primary motivating force. “These images transcend borders and could have been taken in many places,” he observes. Still, the artist now admires Cuba and its people for the ubiquitous evidence of what he has dubbed “racial equilibrium.” Decades of intermarriage between races, generational shifts and indelible cultural levelers interposed by Castro — some noble, some tragically misguided — represent almost subliminal layers within each rich image.

Created with a Toyo 4 x 5 Field camera and Polaroid 55 negative film, the large images sprocket holes which become an integral part of the works. The artist conceives of these handsome imperfections as artifacts from the creation of the photographs. Its “history,” so to speak, is there for us to see. Black edges left behind by the process in effect frame the subjects, and the viewer might be left with the impression that he or she is looking through a kind of window or doorway.

We are privileged witnesses to these silent, solemn but clearly monumental events. As Susan Sontag wrote in her essay On Photography, “After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed.” Rusnak, recognizing the power and responsibility inherent in his cross-cultural undertaking, manages to bestow a respectful gaze on the individuals as well as on Cuban soil. He creates fresh, cinematic worlds within each triptych.

In Panterras Negras, we are presented with a man who John’s team nicknamed “Jimi Hendrix” because of his affection for the late musician. He sits on a parked motorcycle, while a lady friend sits contentedly in the sidecar. Where are they going? They’re traveling through their lives. They remain dignified despite the occasional, cryptic presence of oversized ‘fro wigs on their heads. Los Viejos Negros y Los Jovenes Blancos is a provocative and potent set of images that depicts two black adults resting on the tire-less carcass of an automobile as young white babies in diapers sit on the dusty ground before them. Conceived as a response to Robert Frank’s photograph of a noble-looking African-American woman holding a cherubic Caucasian baby, the piece by Rusnak will elicit heartfelt philosophical responses from all who stand in front of it. Meaningful dialogues about race and culture are precisely what the artist, Rusnak, intends to evoke.

Rusnak is not content to create a strictly photographic portrayal of the lives of others. He is also an accomplished painter and draftsman, and graphite drawings are incorporated into the works. These elements are masterfully wrought and blended in nearly imperceptible ways within the images. Subjective perception is stimulated and challenged by yet another layer in the triptychs. The black-and-white photo-based works are printed through a 4-color process, then carefully juxtaposed with others from each series. Rusnak builds narrative upon poetic narrative. The blindfolds on the young girls are graphic elements that were added later by the artist, though the cigarettes that dangle from their mouths are “real.” The entire grassy foreground in Postura de los Santos, an unforgettable depiction of three praying nuns flanked by shirtless men in handcuffs, was drawn and then digitally placed in the image after the fact. In what is arguably the most intrusive of the graphic elements, the artist has replaced all of his cadets’ lower halves with the same pair of sturdy legs in pants. The trio of images has become at once more formal and somehow less stern, as if Rusnak is implying that, from the waist down, all men are identical. In each instance, the graphic elements, while remaining nearly undetectable add not only to visual impact but also the aforementioned history of the photograph itself. If photography provides evidence, Rusnak’s hybrid masterworks present a poetic sleight-of-hand that plays tricks on our eyes and massages our memories. Reality, he seems to be saying, is so elusive as to be beside the broader humanistic point being made.

Cuban statesman, writer and poet José Martí, a great thinker on politics and personal liberty, remains a hero to his people. Rusnak, the artist and humanist, was particularly moved by a quote from Martí:

“ There is no task more difficult than distinguishing throughout our existence what is infectious and acquired from spontaneous and prenatural life…no sooner are we born than, on hand, standing nearby the cradle, are the philosophies, religions, parent’s passions, political systems to which we are bound with large, strong blindfolds. And man is tied, bound for the rest of life, a blinkered horse…it’s our urgent task to restore mankind to itself.”

This became a cornerstone of Rusnak’s “Fear of Nostalgia,” a mini manifesto that served as inspiration and guide for the entire project. The Freedom Fighter’s words, like Rusnak’s portraits of his fellow sentient beings, belong to all mankind. In what might be described as a kind of miracle, the Cuban government is officially pleased with Rusnak’s creation. The artist donated the entire series to Cuba’s National Museum of Photography, FOTOTECA de Cuba, where it remains as part of the Museum’s permanent collection and has become part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

- Doug McClemont, April 2013

Doug McClemont is a New York-based writer, curator and critic.


Many years in front of the camera exposed Rusnak to some of the most influential photographers of our time including Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Chris Van Waganheim.  John Michael Rusnak’s exhibitions have so far touched upon childhood nightmares with his Arlequins de Nuits, and the subject of religion in Duplicitous Icons.  Under the mentorship of Arne Glimcher, owner of Pace Galleries, Rusnak photographically reinterpreted the sculptures of John Chamberlain for FLAUNT, creating cast abstract, sculptural, photographic landscapes. His fashion photography has also appeared on the pages of British Harpers Baazar, Magazine, Luxe-Immo as well as in campaigns and advertorials for Prada, Moet et Chandon, Cartier, Fendi, and Loree Rodkin Jewelry.


Additional exhibition dates for Fear of Nostalgia:

September 20 – December 21, 2013 KM Fine Arts, John Hancock Center, Chicago
March 2014 –  (MuBE) Museu Brasileiro da Escultura, Sao Paulo, Brazil


For further information and visuals please contact:

Anna Hollinger, Director and Managing Partner   312.255.1319
Lissa Kivisto, Sales Director   310.854.0540
Lauren Leving, Registrar 312.255.1202 

Chicago Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Los Angles Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Twitter:  @KMFineArts

John Michael Rusnak: Fear of Nostalgia

May 17 – Jul 12, 2013