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Seline Baumgartner

Kanonengasse 20
January 15, 2015–March 1, 2015

View of “Seline Baumgartner: Before the Future,” 2015. Left: As Everything Fades (Packard Plant), 2015. Right: Before the Future, 2015.

The video Before the Future (all works 2015) by the young Zurich-born artist Seline Baumgartner greets visitors to her current solo exhibition. Featuring dancers Meg Harper, Vicky Shick, Jon Kinzel, and Keith Sabado, everything seems transformed in this work: The winter beach at Fort Tilden in Queens, empty of human beings, is a stage, the sea and ships on the horizon are backdrops, while the azure winter sky is a broadly spread soffit. They dance—all at an advanced age—alone or in twos or fours; they act like birds, trolls, freaks, and scratch lines in the sand. Only the close-up of the incredibly beautiful Harper in profile deserves to enter art history.

The title of the video, which is also the title of the exhibition, evokes the broader ecstasies of time, past and present. A fulfilled present cannot be established without the past. The works presented here insist upon this. The Minimalist installation As Everything Fades (Packard Plant) consists of several hundred parquet blocks from Albert Kahn’s automobile factory—which has since been torn down—stapled to the wall. The magical C-prints Everything Fades While We Turn Away (Packard Plant) 1–3 show further materials found there, such as charred wood or mattress stuffing, which were recorded with a hand scanner.

The artist lays bare traces and stories. Thus, in the video Belle Isle, Baumgartner visits an abandoned zoo. Nature has long since reconquered her terrain there. Static shots accord to a story told offscreen, without mawkishness, of a friend who suffers from bipolar disorder. It is an impressive testimony that the future, without reflecting on the past, is not to be had.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Paul Thek

Rämistrasse 37
March 20, 2015–April 25, 2015

132 Tenth Avenue
January 10–February 21

Paul Thek, Untitled (figures by rocks, water), ca. 1975, oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 19 1/2".

Paul Thek first visited the Italian isle Ponza in 1968 and later sojourned there, on and off, for a decade. It is said that he spent these salad days boating, swimming, reading, and, as his works from the time avow, painting—namely, the sea, over and over. When in Rome, he deftly transcribed passages from St. Augustine’s Confessions in three of his profuse notebooks (“Do the heaven and the earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them?”) alongside some of his own contemplations: black-and-white Polaroids of clouds. Is this how myth builds?

A quick Ponza image search is jaw dropping for its array of acidy, unreal blues, but Thek’s cerulean hues are softer—though not without bite. Dedicated to his work in Italy in the 1970s, this show makes a strong case for a rigor under the waves, against interpretation. While the gouache seascapes on newspaper are by now perhaps familiar emblems after his 2010–11 retrospective, the few small oil-on-canvas works that zoom out to broader scenes, astonish. There is Untitled (figures by rocks, water), ca. 1975, which gives us a diver, a sunbather, a rocky grotto, and water for days. The scene nearly seems fixed, like a postcard—the opposite of the once-decaying newspapers. On the heels of Robert Gober’s recent retrospective, which had two humble figurative canvases from 1975 opening and closing the show, Thek’s impact on a younger New York generation feels specific and local despite his wanderlust. The city was lucky he came back.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Vera Molnar

Selnaustrasse 25
February 25, 2015–May 10, 2015

Vera Molnar, On se promène? (Shall We Take a Walk?), 1988/2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Unwritten art history holds its surprises. The ninety-one-year-old artist Vera Molnar—who was born in Hungary and has resided in Paris for many years—sold her first work, despite her continuous career, when she was sixty. Beyond France, this pioneer in joining digital art and painting, still active at an advanced age, is unknown to a greater public. It is that much more joyous the Haus Konstruktiv, in Zurich, in collaboration with the Museum für Konkrete Kunst, in Ingolstadt, Germany, has organized “(Un)Ordnung. (Dés)Ordre” ([dis]order).

Trained under the still-reigning influence of realism, Molnar early on sought out concrete, nonrepresentational forms—the free line and the square—the transformations of which she persistently holds on to this day: drawing, painting, and experimenting on a computer, taking pleasure in the provocation of the graphic system. Her delight is infectious; one feels it deeply the central work on view, On se promène? (Shall We Take a Walk?), 1988/2015. Here, the visitor enters a dark hall and follows a sharp, jagged white line—a bit of yarn illuminated by black light—which runs like Ariadne’s thread across the walls. Molnar has also translated the handwriting of her mother into her own initials, V and M, using the algorithm of a computer, a procedure she had performed for her computer drawings “De la série Lettres de ma mere” (From the Series of Letters from My Mother), 1984, to produce hauntingly beautiful graphics. In Zurich there is an outstanding personality to be discovered, and an artist true to her principle of the controlled breaking of rules.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Xanti Schawinksy

Limmatstrasse 270
February 21, 2015–May 17, 2015

Xanti Schawinsky, come closer, 1960, oil on canvas, 82 x 82".

The title of Xanti Schawinsky’s series “Track Paintings,” 1958–60, is to be taken literally. The artist drove a car, sometimes a convertible, through a pool of black oil paint and then back and forth across canvases that he had painted with bright color fields. Three impressive results of these actions now hang in this exhibition, the first comprehensive retrospective of a nearly forgotten pioneer of modernism.

Well positioned for his career as a designer, a man of the theater, and a teacher—first at the Bauhaus and then, after emigrating to New York in 1938, at Black Mountain College, New York University, and City College—Schawinsky was never forced to put his art on the market. This, coupled with the fact that a decades-long legal battle prevented his posthumous work from being scattered to the winds, now makes it possible for the Schawinsky estate to show his works cohesively.

It is a stroke of luck. With his “Track Paintings” as well as the preceding series of “Dance Paintings,” 1956—in which this undogmatically creative mind painted the canvas with dance steps—Schawinsky became not only an important mediator between Abstract Expressionism and Happenings but also, as his stage works from the 1920s and ’30s attest, between the visual arts and theater, between the European modernism of the Bauhaus and performance in the US. This significance becomes freshly, grippingly apparent here.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Hans Schärer

May 1–August 2

View of “Hans Schärer: Madonnas and Erotic Watercolors,” 2015.

This uncanny parade takes the visitor’s breath away without fail: For over fifteen years, from 1966 to the beginning of the 1980s, the Swiss artist, poet, and composer Hans Schärer created his “Madonnas”—pastose oil paintings in various vertical formats. They depict silhouettes of masklike figurines whose grimaces and penetrating gazes do not bode well. Nearly a hundred have been collected in this solo exhibition, “Hans Schärer: Madonnas and Erotic Watercolors,” in the main hall of the Aargauer Kunsthaus.

The painter pursues his subject obsessively. Shaping it again and again, painting layer upon layer, often for months, without a version being able to satisfy him. The ghostly silhouette, the head and torso are reduced to a few characteristics—the mouths, eyes, coat, or hair resemble one another in almost unending variations of form and color. These are idols of femininity and female power, teeming with desire and threat. The densely hung watercolors in the adjoining space act this out scenically in smaller format on paper. Cheerful nudes enjoy themselves in the circus-colored, BDSM ambience.

In contrast, Schärer’s statuesque Madonnas are less an expression of seductive femininity and sexuality than a surface projection of masculine libido, fantasies, and fears. For that reason, too, they unite in Aargau as a tension-filled chorus. If one could hear them sing, Thomas Tallis’s 1570 polyphonic Spem in alium (Hope Lies in the Other) would belong in their repertoire.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner