|Raymond Hains, Untitled, 1990|
Albert Oehlen’s Untitled, 2017, commissioned for this exhibition, dispels all doubt about the ambiguity of grey. The colour chart that moves from what we might call grey to blue to brown to white showing that, in fact, any colour might be grey if seen in the right light. And vice versa, grey can become any other colour if seen from a given perspective, by a particular culture, in a specific historical moment. As Wittgenstein reminds us, we call grey, like all other colours, is always at the mercy of language, the words that we give to that peculiar cast of light on the surface before our eyes. I have no idea if it is Oehlen’s intention to cast the definition of grey into question, but this is what came to mind as I stood before this work that seems unrelated to everything he has done until now. While the form of the colour chart is nothing new—and visitors will be reminded of Gerhard Richter’s works of the same genre—its placement here at the entrance to Matière Grise as a claim about grey, is innovative.
|Albert Oehlen, Untitled, 2017|
The exhibition confirms all my convictions that grey is the most exciting colour. While each work on exhibition has some kind of value, the curation is what makes this show fascinating. Matière Grise brings together all of the materials in our world that are grey: steel, clay, oil, spray paint on cars, aluminium, charcoal and of course, paint. The exhibition consists of pieces ranging from Raymond Hains, Untitled (1990) made up of posters torn from the streets stuck on stainless steel, through Edmund de Waal’s still life of a pot, a book with a gold leaf leaning against it inside a small box, to a rock by Navid Nuur, enamelled and with indentations in which iron shavings are nestled. All of this matter is grey, and together, they remind us that grey matters.
My favourite of the individual pieces is Loris Gréaud’s Trajectories, 2017. Car waste oil has been smeared across absorbent paper, mounted and framed in black oak. The bevelled edges of the paper which is mounted on board and then made precious through a frame. The unevenness of the paper on which the oil is smeared thus becomes foregrounded and similarly makes the oil as medium poetic. The oil raises many associations; the cars from which it has been wasted, the environment from which it has robbed, the economy it turns around, remind us that oil is such a politically and economically potent substance. And here, in Trajectories, oil makes paper sensuous and aesthetically pleasing, and in turn, delicate.
|Jérémy Demester, Vin d'Anjou IX, 2017|
It is interesting to note that all the pieces are abstract, and all are tactile, material and or sumptuous surfaces. And like Trajectories they all engage some form of transformation, either of the material or the grey. Each piece therefore reflects back on the colour grey. The shiny reflective surface of Jérémy Demester’s, Vin d’Anjoy IX, 2017 is hung opposite Gréaud’s Trajectories and looks blue by comparison, across the other side of the room. The two are in conversation, reflecting on their differences—reflective opposite absorbent—and through juxtaposition, their own materiality. In this example, we see how grey has the capacity to make ethereal substances material—oil, water, air, and of course, paint are made into things, distinct, but dependent on each other for definition. We see this transformation, literally, in the fourth panel of Hains’ Untitled. A horizontal blue line about 1/3 of the way down the panel turns blu paint into water, a substance. Materiality is also the conversation had by the objects of de Waal’s Tobias and his angel (2017): the objects in the box are ceramic, graphite, glass, aluminium, plexiglass, and all come together to transcend their individual identity and significance.
|Günter Förg, Untitled, 2001|
The question I came away with: why is it that grey is always rendered through abstraction? I don’t know the definitive answer, but I am convinced that artists turn to grey to pose the questions and problems that preoccupy, but cannot be examined through representation. Grey is a stripping back of the concerns of the aesthetic, and therefore, questions are resolved in grey where other colours have no idea. Thus, Günther Förg’s ribbons of dark grey on a lighter grey background ask questions about background and foreground, the difference between line and ground, between chaos and order, labyrinthine possibilities.
My commitment to grey stems from the fact that grey has to work with other colours, in different materials in order for its brilliance to shine through. Grey doesn’t have an easy life. And this exhibition is memorable because it is only in the coming together of the different works that all of this magic happens in the Max Hetzler gallery.
All images copyright Max Hetzler Gallery