Letter From BERLIN

Koksen Ist Achtziger / Art of the Eighties
NYMPHIUS PROJEKTE, BERLIN
SEPTEMBER 10 – DECEMBER 12, 2010

My Lonely Days Are Gone
ARRATIA, BEER, BERLIN
SEPTEMBER 17 – NOVEMBER 27, 2010

My Lonely Days Are Gone. Andrea Winkler (Wall) and Tim Stapel (Floor). © ARRATIA, BEER Berlin.

Exhibitions dealing, in their very different ways, with 21st century abstraction opened in the first half of September here in Berlin. Nymphius Projektee presents a small survey of painting, hung salon-style, which looks at some conceptual and geometric tendencies in 1980s abstraction that still underpin much abstract painting today. The salon hang enables each small-scale painting to represent difference and similarity amid shared concerns. The exhibition is modest in scale, and the range of works presented is thought-provoking. The curatorial idea is simple and clear, a basis for further viewing and reflection.

The artists represented here used geometry to salvage some ground within the torrent of pictures and images flooding the media-saturated world of the 1980s, which threatened painting with obsolescence. One innovation or strategy that proved successful was a rediscovery of Kazimir Malevich and an interest in the early performances of Joseph Beuys, a seemingly unlikely match. This meant that geometry, once seen as exclusive and high brow, could be placed in a social context and be both confrontational and participatory, an idea further developed by Gerwald Rockenshaub and Heimo Zobernig in the 1990s. Some works looked like architectural fragments, patterns, or walls. Or, in the case of Peter Halley, plans and conduits.

Wall painting itself has become something of a genre recently, with many painters adding it to their repertoire. It is also interesting to consider that, during the 1980s, New Image painting was the big event that held a sizable portion of the art world’s gaze. But then, abstraction has never been about fashion. In or out of the spotlight, it is a possibility in visual art that continues to be explored.

Koksen Ist Achtziger / Art of the Eighties. Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin. © Nymphius Projekte Berlin.

Over at ARRATIA, BEER, Arturo Herrera has organized a visually dynamic group exhibition of established and emerging artists, all of whom, it seems sure, are more than a little interested in the premise of the Nymphius Projekte exhibition. Their visual impact could not be more different, though. My Lonely Days Are Gone occupies almost all of the gallery space, and by that I do mean all. Each artist takes an entire wall of the two room space for their painting, apart from Tim Staple, who resurfaces the whole floor with a bold geometry of diagonal angular shapes. This disjunctive jump cut of geometry and gesture is a great visual ride of clashing and co-existing works.

For the most part, paint is flatly applied with a geometric structure, or a repetitive and graphic line. The exception is an improvised and casual wall painting with a chain attached near floor level. Andrea Winkler, an artist better known for her sculptural objects, has improvised a meandering group of lines, sprayed à la Katharina Grosse, but totally different in feel and inflection. The pleasure is in the way she confounds expectations when it comes to abstract wall painting. It’s a slow piece, without the well judged graphic clout of Jan van der Ploeg, an artist whose beautifully restrained wall works evince all the forethought and planned consideration of a seasoned practitioner. The difference makes for one of many productive and constantly unfolding dialogues within the exhibition.

Another contrasting position is that of Erick Meyenberg, a former assistant to Sol LeWitt. His use of the LED colors, red, green, and blue, stands for ethnological attempts to identify race. This cultural anthropology structures his work, which is as seductive visually as it is intellectually poetic. None of the works by these 10 artists can be seen discretely in the exhibition, and it is this optical and conceptual maze that results in a restive play of visual ideas. And all this without any paint applied at more than a millimeter’s thickness. But that’s another story, one best exemplified in Berlin this moment at the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition of Pierre Soulages paintings.

Contributor

David Rhodes

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