Sunday, September 17, 2017

Günther Förg and Antoni Tàpies at Galerie Lelong

Günter Förg, Untitled, 1989
Mixed media on paper
Günther Förg and Antoni Tàpies don’t instinctively seem to be an ideal pair to share an exhibition. But because of their enormous differences, their work sits together comfortably to create uncomfortable but productive tensions currently on view at Galerie Lelong.

Günter Förg, Untitled, 1993
Watercolor on paper
Förg’s abstract paintings are among the most accessible kind of abstraction. This is largely to do with the vibrancy of the colours, the looseness of the paint, the unmistakeable forms. In addition, the influence of Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko gives the abstract images a familiarity. Nevertheless, Förg’s watercolours and crayon on paper are easier, less intellectually challenging, and they take themselves less seriously than those of the masters to which they are indebted. Words that come to mind in front of Förg’s paintings include: light, rhythm, vibration, luminosity and play, even as they extend to depth and density on reflection. The images on display at Galerie Lelong include some of his well-known paintings in which windows in bright colours are placed inside frames. And within the frames the paint or the line of the crayon is set free. There is even a randomness to the stroke within the framing devices, at times even disrespecting the frame or limits. This arbitrariness within the divided and entrapped spaces gives them a childlikeness, and with it a sense of healthy disrespect.
Antoni Tàpies exhibition installation view @ Galerie Lelong
Antoni Tàpies works on paper could not be more different. Walking into the main gallery at Lelong, the visitor is overwhelmed by the pain, suffering, loss and agony of the emotions depicted on paper. Like Förg’s familiar “grid-like” patterns, we immediately recognize Tàpies well-rehearsed visual language.  The x and the +, the cross and the erasure, death and very little life follows us around the gallery. There’s not a lot of hope and happiness in the scratching and scrawling, the spare painted marks in muted colours on thick, sensuous paper. The only colour to appear on his works is red. And then, it’s red of a particularly violent nature: when a ladder in red leads nowhere and finds a cross two thirds of the way up, we imagine the soldier who didn’t even make it to heaven before his bloody wounds killed him. We can only imagine the torture he went through.
Antoni Tàpies, Escala vermella I (1983
Similar to Escala vermella I (1983) many of Tàpies’s works ask us to imagine the story of what we don’t see in the image. In one particularly poignant image, Negre I Rogenc I (2006), we see black brushstrokes transform into someone dying on a battlefield before our eyes. As the figure on his knees bends down in defeat, the blood drips from wounds and stains the ground. Planes fly overhead and before we know it we are on the battlefield of WWI in mourning for the figure that is infact no more than a few strokes of black paint. In another example, four images, each with a minimum of lines nevertheless clearly portray dismembered body parts: feet, an eye, genitals, hands. And each of them is wounded by the red stain that nevertheless is only present in two of them.
Antoni Tàpies, Dues mans assenyalant, 2011
What is it, I wondered, that makes Tàpies’s pictures so devastating? How can a few abstract lines evoke the destruction of history?  It’s something to do with, once again, the looseness of the brushstroke, the apparent loss of control, the strokes that trail off into nothing. And in addition, as we saw in Förg’s abstractions, there is a sense of innocence and childlikeness to the drawings and paintings, evocations of something lost. The body crossed out, indicating either erasure or that something is not right and a need to start again from the beginning. The madness of the unordered and the unruly, the anger and violence of a single line is nowhere more profound than in Tàpies’s paintings.

Antoni Tàpies, Vernis I, 1989
The exhibition is also supposed to be about matter. These are not vintage Tàpies images with sand and plaster, dirt and other substances on the canvas. In fact, I found most of the images, both by Tàpies and Förg to depart from questions of matter. That said, however, there is a lovely juxtaposition of Tàpies’s works in varnish, where varnish bleeds over the surface of paper, and those that use paint which is absorbed by thick luscious hand made paper.

No comments: