24 May – 29 July 2018

Edi Hila, Prania e munguar, 2014, vaj ne kanavace, Une e du Kosoven Foundation

The National Gallery of Arts presents the first retrospective exhibition of the work of Edi Hila in Albania. Edi Hila was born in Shkodra in 1944. He lives and works in Tirana.

After completing his studies at the Art Institute in Tirana in 1967, Hila worked as a scenographer for the Albanian Radio Television Station. In 1972, he made The Planting of Trees, a painting that was initially well-received by the public and the state. A year later, he went to Florence, Italy, for professional training in scenography at a television station. Hila’s work would later be largely influenced by his contact with Florentine museums and Renaissance painting.

During this period, Albania’s cultural policy punished artists for displaying what was then perceived as foreign influences. As a consequence, Hila’s The Planting of Trees and the design for the scenography of the 11th Festival were both criticized. The former was considered a highly expressive painting that overstepped the socialist realism doctrine and lacked the so-called revolutionary spirit. The painting, along with the scenography of the 11th Festival, became the grounds for punishment: in 1974, he was forced to leave the painting studio and was assigned a post at a poultry plant. Hila worked for three years at the plant, where his main task was hauling sacks. Between 1975 and 1978, he secretly created a series of drawings and graphics in aquarelle, whose motifs were inspired by the life and labor of the workers of the poultry plant.

In the 1990s, Hila sought to further refine his painterly style and aesthetic position, carefully observing life as it was evolving after the fall of Communism and depicting the realities of the transformation of Albania. Hila created his groundbreaking series, Comfort (1997), as a response to the dramatic crisis caused by the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997, which drove the country into chaos. The paintings capture the consumer utopia promised to the new society.

Hila primarily works in series, treating a selected theme over several paintings. His most significant series include, Paradox (2000–2005), Relations (2002–2014), Threat (2003–2009), Roadside Objects (2007–2010), Penthouses (2013), Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard (2015), and Tent on the Roof of a Car (2017). Working thematically strips the transformations in Eastern Europe of accident or adventure, so typical of many other artistic representations from the region, and gives them the weight of distilled general truths, as if he were their final chronicler.

The realism of his painting is distinct, based on careful observation of detail, which he exploits to convey the psychological truth of the observed phenomenon. Such radical reduction is a result of Hila’s inclinations toward classicism and his fascination with Renaissance sources of painting. It is as if modernism evaporated from his field of interest. Thus, the transformation depicted in Hila’s work conveys a disruption and attack on harmony and order. Nevertheless, Hila’s work is rooted in human dilemmas that are hard to conceal, even with a veneer of modernization.

Curated by Joanna Mytkowska, Kathrin Rhomberg, and Erzen Shkololli
Exhibition architecture by Büro Meyer-Grohbrügge

Edi Hila: Painter of Transformation is a joint project of the National Gallery of Arts, Albania, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, and Kontakt Collection in Vienna.