Monday, July 30, 2018

John Armleder @ Almine Rech

John Armleder, Cinquième Lune, 2018

I really wanted to like the Judit Reigl works on exhibition at the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, but was disappointed. I enjoyed the first rooms that showed the abstract works with their discovery of accidental patterns and the emergence of glowing colours from the ground of the canvas. But in the second two rooms are a range of paintings in which Reigl finds male bodies and male forms in the abstract lines. I found these works disappointing, not only because of the repetitive focus on male genitals and bodies, but because they looked like stencils that had been painted over. Then, we are supposed to be surprised that a male form happens to be emerging?
John Armleder, Pruniers fleuris, 2018
The exhibition I found more enjoyable today were the new works by Swiss artist John Armleder at Galerie Almine Rech in the Marais. Even though Armleder’s painting process and products are very different from Reigl’s, I was fascinated to see the recurrence of ideas of the aleatory appearance of the unexpected through playing with paint. The difference being that Armleder—an early Fluxus practitioner—consciously removes his own subjectivity from the paintings making the chance appearance of patterns, densities and colours more convincing than Reigl’s repetition of the male body.  Armleder uses different types of paint, varnish, liquids, glitter, confetti and small objects; he throws them onto the canvas in a performance-like gesture and the results are ethereal, unexpected, beautiful and unusual. I also found the interaction of materials and colours endlessly fascinating– sometimes they merged, sometimes the oil of one medium didn’t take to that of another, the glitter spread, little globules exploded and created new colours, often as they hit others on the canvas. I understood that in this relationship between colours the unexpected began, rather than that the artist was exploring a particular concept. In addition, in the relationships of colours we see the overarching idea of Armleder’s paintings, that of the process of painting being represented on the canvas.
John Armleder, Premières oies, 2018
I was struck by Armleder’s interest in the natural world. Plants and cacti were placed around the gallery, creating a kind of living room effect, or at least reference to the living room. Even on the canvas, there was plenty of evidence of nature interacting with painting and conversely, the two co-existing but not interacting. A flip through his books on sale at the gallery confirmed that this relationship between painting and the natural world is a recurrent concern of his work.
John Armleder, Etang, 2018
Standing back from the paintings, it was tempting to see explosions everywhere. The literature for the exhibition claims the paintings are like volcanoes, presumably spewing out different coloured paint in a climactic eruption. However, the patterns are also very aggressive, as different types of paints and colours tear open and break out of fabric covering the canvas. This makes the works somewhat dark and apocalyptic when seen from a distance, giving them an anger that forced me as a viewer to stand back. This is exacerbated by the density of paint, materials, canvases, and layers of stuff on the paintings; there is so much going on on the surface that it’s difficult to know how to approach them, literally. And so we stay back, looking at them as if at a performance. The thick texture also takes the works into a conversation with the orientation and substance of painting , and yet, there is nothing sensuous about the works. In turn, I found this to be further conviction of the complete removal of the artist. In spite of the juxtaposition with the plants, there was a sense in which the human and natural elements of Armleder’s paintings have gone long ago. We are left with apocryphal, doomsday works that are nevertheless filled with the most joyous colours, sometimes delicate lines, sprinklings of sparkle and confetti. 

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