ADRIAN SCHIESS Peintureby David Rhodes
FRAC PROVENCE ALPES CôTE D’AZUR, MARSEILLE
MAY - AUGUST 30, 2014
Entering an Adrian Schiess exhibition is not a passive experience, and his current show at FRAC in Marseille is no exception. Spread out over two floors, Schiess has installed individual pieces on nearly every surface, be it hanging on or leaning against the wall, or lying flat on the floor. Included are spray-painted or hand–painted monochrome panels made of chipboard or honeycomb aluminum. Added to the mix are panels with inkjet printed images of the garden outside the artist’s studio and the studio’s paint encrusted floor, as well as paintings on canvas, polyester, and aluminum supports. When taken together, these works evince an inclusive attitude to the experiences of and processes involved in encountering and making paintings. After living in Mouans-Sartoux, not far from Marseille, for 20 years, Schiess returned to Switzerland and now lives in Swiss Jura. The exhibition includes the available works from French collections made during the artist’s time in France, all of which come together to form a captivating and cohesive display; this is a retrospective in which the exhibition as a whole is a new work.
In the upper gallery, several chipboard panels from 1987 are painted with industrial paint, leaning against each other and against the wall, indicating possibilities for adding to, or taking away from, an existing arrangement of panels. There is no sense of a definitive composition; everything suggests temporality and openness. Also, as with work by artists such as Robert Ryman, Jessica Stockholder, and Katharina Grosse, the external space surrounding these works is considered crucial to the experience of viewing them. The impact that times of day or weather conditions have on the colored panels is either dramatic or subtle. There is no electric lighting, but because of the row of large windows that run along the entire right side of the gallery, the reflection of the adjacent exterior act as an echo to the work. Vertical divisions of glass window and rectangular abutted panels dissolve the solidity of the architecture, like the surface of an area of water. As Ulrich Loock observed in his 2014 interview with the artist, Un discours sur la pienture très banal, très traditionnel:
On the one hand the colored plate is there, but simultaneously not there inasmuch as it is overlapped, penetrated, dissolved by reflections of light and surrounding space, which moreover is undergoing permanent change through the movement of the viewer, as well as through the movement of the earth.
The contingency and interrelatedness of the surfaces are deepened as they reflect back and forth, folding transient images of the viewer, the museum’s interior, and the other artworks into themselves. “Peinture” (2005) is a deep orange panel that leans against the wall. Resting on batons of wood at its lower edge are separate inkjet printed panels juxtaposing photographic close-ups of flowers and a distant paint splattered studio floor. Yet again the sensual, perceptual, and bodily overlap. The colors combine abstractly, through fragmented reflections that bring elements of the gallery space onto a panel’s monochrome surface, just as much as the photographic images represent fragments of things not present. Everything—seen or remembered, peripheral or concentrated, incidental or carefully selected—becomes equal in a fluid, painterly way. The effect is not monumental or overwhelming, but humble in its heterogeneity; there is no place for imposed hierarchy here.
The numerous large-scale paintings made with acrylic on polyester stretched over an aluminum frame both act within and innovate upon the tradition of painting, such as the vertically oriented “Sans titre” (Untitled), (2009). The cream colored polyester is stained with pinks, blues, and dark reddish purples: the dripped and smeared paint appears to have been dragged and folded before being stretched. Some of the other polyester paintings contain garden leaves, souvenirs from days when Schiess worked on the paintings outside the studio. There is no sense whatsoever of deliberate virtuosity or expressionism in these paintings, yet they are animated and fresh, complex in a way that invites the viewer to organize the field for themselves.
Often the viewer gains access to a different experience of the exhibition, by moving through or around the floor-based works, and this mobility precludes a distanced static viewpoint. Viewers trace a different path through the exhibition inventing or discovering their own narrative, like passing through a landscape. The desire of the artist is for the viewer to participate in the process of painting and the recollections it provokes in the flux of the present. Although earlier readings have categorized this work as a form of minimalism or reductive abstraction, such a view disregards the constant exchange between one piece and another, and their obvious imperfections, such as the broken edges of some of the panels. What we have here is as much a discourse about painting as an invitation to participate in its construction and processes.