On ViewHauser & Wirth
January 24 – April 6, 2019
Hauser & Wirth's exhibition Günther Förg: Works from 1986 – 2007 presents painting, sculpture, and photography by the German artist, whose estate is now represented by the gallery, in a new institutional setting. Förg, who died on his birthday in 2013 at the age of 61, experimented with mimicry in his exploration of mid-20th century painting, expanding on and responding to forms and styles pioneered by other artists. Critics and art historians often place Förg's monochromes and pared-down references to architecture and form in conversation with Barnett Newman, Blinky Palermo, and others. Wads of acrylic color (that resemble crayon scribbles) map out an abstract landscape on two untitled canvases from 2007 and recall Cy Twombly's own scribbles and use of color on a white canvas.
In this exhibition, Förg's engagement with modernism's artistic tropes is most apparent in his refashioning of the infamous modernist grid; Förg's take seizes on a crosshatch motif that returns throughout the works on view. He modulates his crosshatches to present structures as varied as the windows pictured in his architectural photography; quasi-representational gridded forms in painting (fencing, or tree tops, in an untitled 2005 painting that runs the length of one gallery); schematic window frames painted on the wall (similar to his 2007 public sculpture L'Horrible, a towering empty wall frame in red, in Neuchatel, Switzerland); and traces of expressive gestures scored into plaster.
Förg's wall paintings used the very surfaces of exhibition halls to create new geometric compositions. Recreated here, their colors and designs connect the viewer to other spaces and times. Förg applied paint directly to cover an entire wall, usually in two colors and sometimes with an accompanying photograph, as represented in the black-and-yellow Untitled / Wall painting Galerie Roger Pailhas, Marseille (1986). Occasionally, he also used the white gallery wall to trace a design in black, for example, the double window frame shapes of Untitled / Wall painting for the exhibition "Painting on the Move," Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (2002). The wall paintings' titles include the locations of their original installation and so superimpose those other spaces on this Chelsea gallery, if only through the evocation of color.
The architecture of this gallery's building, with its steep staircase leading to the second floor (and a precarious if brief bout of vertigo in descending it again), offers its own site-specific corollary to Förg's interest in architecture. The 1995 sculptures masquerading as architectural fragments that you come upon on entering the second-floor gallery at the top of the stairs appear to have the weight of concrete slabs, but they're plaster on burlap with steel or aluminum frames. The play of material and apparent weightiness make you wonder what it would be like to push them over.
But each plaster slab holds its place on its white plinth, stoically set against the gray backdrop of Förg's chalkboard eraser-esque crosshatches in Untitled / Wall painting ABN Amro, Amsterdam (1999). The pattern of the "erasures" on this wall painting (dark gray acrylic and chalkboard paint, with lighter gray traces as if the slate had been wiped clean with a damp cloth after an intense lesson) transmits calm. With this wall painting, was Förg cleaning the slate in the anxious lead-up to the new millennium—smoothing out Y2K fears that global banking would collapse, and auto-piloted aircrafts would fall from the sky? The plaster surfaces of the sculptures scramble the ordered, airy patterning of the wall painting in more agitated scratches and scrapes.
Untitled / Wall painting Wiener Secession, Vienna (1990), the work that first greets the viewer on the ground floor and looks out the gallery's windows onto West 22nd Street, combines Förg's interests in modernism, architecture, representation, and history into one multimedia wall painting. First shown in the Vienna Secession's namesake building, three framed c-print photographs—hung on a wall painted a sharp, caution-tape yellow with a black stripe across the top where it meets the ceiling—document the early-20th-century architecture of Monte Verità, a once-artist's colony in Ascona, Switzerland. Seen from an extreme angle below in these photos, the building offers a wall of windows looking out over a hill (and presumably the photographer). Interspersed with these three photographs is a mirror that reflects the gallery space of Hauser & Wirth. As you pass through the gallery, the wall's yellow captures you in its cry for attention; moving in front of the mirror, you pass into and then out of the image. West 22nd Street remains in the frame.