A never-declining artistic medium—painting—is granted yet another harlequin incarnation in Michael Williams’s latest exhibition, where his compositions bring together large-format ink-jet, airbrush, and acrylic on canvas, as well as smaller collages and pen-on-paper works.
DAD (all works cited, 2014) depicts a jolly character in suspenders set against a bright green field and a pink-clouds sunset. On top of his forehead, mistaking the canvas for a monitor, is a pop-up window asking for decisions: DON’T SAVE, CANCEL, SAVE, prompts that arise when one closes a document on a computer. In turn, New File includes a ghostly baby character—a cartoon aesthetic characteristic to Wiliams’s style—surrounded by Photoshop’s transparency grid of gray and white squares. The small child appears as if it is about to be erased by a large, swiping digital brush.
Are these paintings at all? The texture of the canvases is a significant departure from Williams’s previous use of thickly applied layers of oil paint. The introduction of the flat screen is rather a contemporary take on reproductions of artworks, leaving behind the physical engagement of the painter with his medium. Ultimately, the doltishness and innocence radiating from the works interestingly contradicts the artist’s passive-aggressive ambition to tackle the history of painting.
The title of Haim Steinbach’s latest exhibition, “Once Again the World Is Flat,” reminds us that our digital world is as flat as the Great Salt Lake Desert or a computer screen. It also evokes Edwin A. Abbott’s satiric novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, from 1884, which sought to carry the reader away from the mundane, the flat, and the plain into new worlds of insight and experience.
Steinbach succeeds in this with the three outposts of this exhibition, which include the Kunsthalle Zürich, the CCS Bard in New York, and at the Serpentine Gallery in London. In the foyer of the Kunsthalle, the visitor first encounters Display #7, 1979/2014, two mounted shelves with everyday things, like bibelots and flower vases from a living room cabinet, in a brightly wallpapered corner. Previously installed in the entrance gallery of Artists Space in New York in 1979, it is shown here framed by custom walls built into the space—staying true to the conceptual intervention of the artist’s work into the status of our world of objects.
The viewer is meant to follow along, continuing on to Shelf with Globe, 1980, and subsequently Shelf with Picnic Set, 1983, and then through wall openings covered with the artist’s textual wallpaper and up the stairs to reach Jacob’s Ladder, 1997/2014, a monumental installation in which the artist has stacked gravel on shelves installed around a construction ladder. The visitor ends with Basics, 1986, a grouping of militant teddy bears presented on constructivist consoles, and Untitled (Daybed, Coffin), 1989, a modern daybed by Mies van der Rohe paired with a child’s coffin, which are together encased in a wooden box. At this point, one has long left the flatland behind.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
The oeuvre of Vern Blosum manifests the limits of a persona. According to the press release of the artist’s retrospective exhibition, the thirty paintings made between 1961 and 1964 on view are ascribed to Blosum, the pseudonym of the (said to be) still-working anonymous painter, who was awarded the highest symbols of acceptance of the mid-twentieth-century New York art scene: a solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery and inclusion in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Despite the latter having removed Blosum’s work from its catalogue when the artist’s identity could not be confirmed, the person operating under this enigmatic signature made a grouping of paintings that epitomizes early 1960s Pop art, both formally—with a flatness of surface and the use of primary colors and precise lines—and in content. For instance, Blosum rendered a blue fire hydrant at the center of one canvas, with its title, Homage to Ivan K., 1963, inscribed directly beneath, indicating the significant Pop art dealer Ivan Karp. Elsewhere, Blosum’s renderings of self-evident, everyday objects, such as his series of white-and-gray depictions of parking meters on white canvas, are here sensitively hung in simple format along the four tall main-room walls of the Kunsthalle Bern. Most paintings are titled as the time remaining on the depicted meter, such as Ten Minutes from 1962.
These explicit paintings of prosaic subjects are so typical of the era that curator Lucy Lippard cited a 1964 Blosum painting of a pay phone (Telephone) in her seminal book on the movement titled Pop Art (1966). The book is prominently displayed open to this page in a vitrine in the adjoining reading room, demonstrating the trajectory of a body of work independent of its author.
Alberto Garutti’s latest solo exhibition includes the work Untitled, 2014—a sequence of colors printed on nearly thirty-three feet of fabric, which is folded in a serpentine fashion over a series of five brass-colored metal rollers. The fabric scrolls over the mechanized bars slowly and inexorably every day of the exhibition. It is possible to first encounter an entire yellow monochrome square and then a portion of another square, perhaps blue, only for it to change into a light green as one exits the gallery, due to the work’s evolving structure.
The entire chromatic cycle takes twenty-four hours to complete its passage. It seems as though the colors can resonate with the moods of visitors or reverberate with weather conditions outside. Some colors cannot be perceived, since they become visible only at night. Other colors evoke experiences tied to abstract painting or activate memories of landscapes.
The gallery’s second location, in Agra, includes some of Garutti’s older works. On view is Cristallo Rosso (Red Crystal), 1995/2014, which is composed of an oversize iron structure that holds a large piece of red glass pitched against a wall. The piece relates back to an experience the artist had in a small apartment with windows that faced onto a courtyard opposite a red house. When the sun was out, the artist’s room would be bathed in a luminous pink. Here, the wall behind the work is casted in a pink shadow, creating an epiphany for the viewer.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.