Abstract Critical

highways and byways. together again.

Written by Sam Cornish

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with painting by Oli Sihvonen, Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with painting by Oli Sihvonen, Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

Artists: Josef Albers, Amish People, Joe Baer, Robert Barry, Karl Benjamin, Greg Bogin, Ilya Bolotowsky, Krysten Cunningham, Gene Davis, Adolf Richard Fleischmann, Andrea Fraser, Michelle Grabner, Marcia Hafif, Peter Halley, Frederick Hammersley, Michael Heizer, Al Held, Nic Hess, Donald Judd, Alexander Liberman, Sylan Lionni, John McLaughlin, Kenneth Noland, David Novros, Robert Ryman, Tom Sachs, Oli Shivonen, John Tremblay, Larry Zox.

Swiss artist Nic Hess has ‘mashed-up’ a selection of American painting from the Daimler Collection of Modern Art (West Coast; Washington Colour School; Systemic Painting; New York School). A quick google shows that Hess’s art as a whole clearly borrows from the punning humour and wall-occupying tendencies of much street-art, and shares its symbiotic relation with ‘poppy’ graphic design. From the install shots the exhibition is obviously (heavy-handedly?) irreverent, a shaking up of a ‘reliable brand [that has a] predictability that is comforting, if slightly boring’, as Artslant put it. It reminded me of Dan Sturgis’s The Indiscipline of Painting; Lothar Götz’s installation at Domo Baal at the end of last year; or Haroon Mirza at the Hepworth – though I’m sure examples could multiply. From what I can tell the painting by Oli Sihvonen above was originally intended as a flat on the wall diptych, and its panels have been reversed. The press-release (reproduced below) describes the exhibition as a piece ‘reflecting critical attitudes to art institutions’. This seems to me disingenuous. From the installation images the work seems formalist (a word which can take on a variety of different meanings!) rather than critical. Hess visually riffs on the paintings in the collection, rather than (as far as I can see) presenting any obviously intelligible criticism of  the institution which houses them.

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with paintings by  Held, Bolotowsky, Libermann, Davis, Halley, McLaughlin. Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with paintings by Held, Bolotowsky, Libermann, Davis, Halley, McLaughlin. Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

“Ever since the late 1990s, Nic Hess has been using industrial paint, collaged images and coloured tapes, light projections and neon elements to take possession, both intellectually and in real terms, of walls and ceilings – and of entire rooms. The artist takes logos from the commercial world (deployed in symbolic excerpts and in an alienating manner) and icons from art history and political and economic phenomena, and uses his pictorial language, which drifts freely between abstraction, ornamentation and figuration, to compose a unified visual choerography. For this purpose Nic Hess adapts contemporary phenomena in the political, art-historical or economic context – never without a touch of humour or a critical subtext.”

“The exhibition at Haus Huth represents a further step in this direction: in collaboration with Renate Wiehager, Nic Hess will stage an exhibition on Abstract art in the USA from 1950 to the present day. Thereby Hess not only creates a drawing installation in a site-specific manner, which responds to the architecture of the Daimler Contemporary space, but for the first time also reacts on contentual [sic] assumptions and curatorial specifications.”

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with paintings by Bogin,Tremblay, Bolotowski. Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with paintings by Bogin,Tremblay, Bolotowski. Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

“Until the mid-1980s, the European avant-garde provided the primary focus for the Daimler Art Collection. This was to change in 1986, when Andy Warhol was commissioned to create the series of images entitled CARS. The collection has since become increasingly open to American contemporary art. The focus is twofold: on the one hand, tendencies in abstraction and in minimalist and reduced art – from the 1950s to the present day – and, on the other, hand, Pop Art, Conceptual art and pieces reflecting critical attitudes to art institutions. Our first exhibition on this theme presents a cross-section of artworks; it begins with Josef Albers’ early years in America and the work of his students, and goes on to include the Los Angeles ‘Abstract Classicists’ school and the ‘Washington Color School’ to Peter Halley and the artists scenes of the 1990s, concluding with recent contemporary tendencies.”

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with paintings by Zox, Sihvonen, Hess, Lionni. Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

Nic Hess, highways and byways. together again., installation view with paintings by Zox, Sihvonen, Hess, Lionni. Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Courtesy of Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; Photo: Hans-Georg Gaul, Berlin.

highways and byways. together again is on at Daimler Contemporary, Berlin until the 16th of March 2014.

  1. Alan Gouk said…

    Yes. Reminds me of the big show of British art at the Royal Academy curated by Norman Rosenthal in the early 90′s ? , where Prairie was placed in the centre of the School of London and had to be policed by none other than Rosenthal himself to prevent people bumping into it. What idiocy!.

  2. Sam said…

    Just noticed something similar in Tate B’s new re-hang. I’m sure everyone with any interest in modernist sculpture would have noticed and been annoyed at the way Hockney’s Bigger Splash is positioned so it seems to float above the long horizontal axis of Caro’s Early One Morning – it obviously prevents you seeing EOM properly. Which is quite a problem considering it is one of the few stand-out modernist masterpieces in the Tate’s collection (Matisse the Snail perhaps the only other one).

    At first I thought this was just careless or visually illiterate. But today I realised that the swimming board which projects from the bottom edge of the Hockney visually rhymes with the square horizontal plane at the centre of the Caro (from a particular angle they line up so one seems to continue the other) and the splash in the Hockney mirrors the two large prongs in Caro. The visual disruption is certainly intentional and a great sculpture is made into a cheap visual gag, a curatorial in-joke. Is this really good enough? At the least the above exhibition is overt and temporary.

  3. Matt said…

    Looks like more curator nonsense.

  4. David Evison said…

    I wonder what arguments Kuratorin Renate Wiehager used to persuade the trustees of Daimler Contemporary Berlin to allow a graffiti artist with sweet taste to decorate their gallery, and use some of their collection as props for his limp designs.
    The collection of abstract art is second rate, and knowing this, all concerned may have thought that by sexing it up, the show would draw crowds. I was there on a Saturday afternoon and only three other people were present. Seems like it’s a flop.

  5. Geoffrey Pimlott said…

    The pics show a good, meaningful presentation of abstract art. What the hell is there need for a hare’s backside, sticking out of a panel? What is the meaning? I know the mythological, age old, stories of the hare. What has that got to do with these paintings? It suggests the artists have not yet escaped their historical backgrounds, and feel they must still put in a reference. How far do we have to go before non-representational art is exactly non-representational art?