Friday, June 13, 2008

A lake at Essen

I had to go to New York last week and once work was over I took myself over to Chelsea to look round the galleries. Matthew Marks has a Katharina Fritsch exhibition (it finishes tomorrow) in which her sculptures are displayed against silkscreen landscapes. For example, there are images of a lake at Essen and rocks in Franken. The White Cube had a similar exhibition in 2006 in which 'Fritsch created a site-specific installation, transforming the exhibition space into a municipal park, or at least the memory of a park that she frequented as a child in the town of Essen. To create these mental landscapes Fritsch created works from postcards sent to her by her grandfather in the 1970s and 80s. These romanticized scenes are set within the industrial landscape of the Ruhr district, referred to by the artist as her 'heimat' or homeland. Transferred onto large, individually silk-screened panels, the single-colour matt painted surface is the result of a meticulous and extremely precise handcrafted printing process that appears deceptively simple. Each panel depicts the scene in a single colour, as if the other colours in the spectrum have faded, over time, by the bleaching of the sun to leave a trace, or a melancholic memory as if viewing the picturesque scene at twilight.'

Landscapes in old postcards inevitably have a sense of poignancy and ghostly nostalgia but there's no reason to suppose contemporary artists can't avoid cliche and make use of them in various interesting ways. Tacita Dean, for example, has pursued a similar approach in works like Crowhurst (2006) - see below (photography is allowed at MOMA!) The MOMA site says that 'a series in which Dean painted out the backgrounds of old postcards depicting trees led her to her own photographs of famous or ancient trees in her native England.' Jonathan Jones has described one of these trees as appearing to 'bulge out of its setting and press forward into the empty air of the gallery, as if the rotten, grey hulk of a graveyard tree she has found in a postcard were reaching towards you on the sticks that prop it up, tapping you on the shoulder, telling its tale. Dean has brushed white gouache, an opaque watercolour, over huge areas of an enlarged black and white photograph to create this bizarre effect. The tree, isolated, stands proud - a solitary survivor, an aged outcast, a watcher over the dead. In terms of its emotional and intellectual impact, this a truly monumental work, and yet this is just a piece of paper pinned to the wall.'

Tacita Dean, Crowhurst, 2006
photographed at MOMA, New York

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