Continuing through August 24, 2019
When Swiss artist John Armleder explores an idea, he often takes a comprehensive approach. In his current exhibition “Sh/Ash/Lash/Splash,” he employs a variety of mediums to conduct an exhaustive investigation of a single subject, the splash. A shape commonly found in comic books and art historically in the comics-inspired paintings of Pop Art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein, the splash is given a vigorous rebirth in Armleder’s new works, which are as dynamic in their interactions with each other as they are intriguing as objects in their own right. Presented as a cohesive installation where a unity emerges from the interplay of the parts, the exhibition includes two series of Abstract Expressionist style paintings, a number of minimal wall sculptures fabricated out of colored mirror, a floor scatter piece, and a wall installation with mirrored works and paintings mounted over a giant painted black splash.
Although reminiscent of historical Abstract Expressionist works because they contain drips, splatters, and passages of thick encrusted paint, Armleder’s paintings eschew the emotional or heroic overtones associated with the work of first and second generation practitioners like Willem DeKooning or Joan Mitchell. Armleder’s gestures and spills are in fact conceived and executed more as quotations of a period style than as expressions of any angst or passion. This is particularly true in his “Puddle Paintings,” where kitschy elements such as glitter and toys are embedded in the paint. With the immersion of miniature plastic reptiles and replicas of Mickey Mouse in the surfaces, the possibility of any purist Abstract Expressionist intention is effectively subverted, with the paint transformed into what could be absurdist topographical landscapes for which one could construct narratives.
In the mirrored works, Armleder uses a minimal vocabulary to evoke complex situations that heighten our mindfulness of being in the space. Although each is shaped like a splash, focus on of the shape is inhibited by awareness of the reflection of our selves, the architecture, and other works in the exhibition. With the mirrors tinted monochromatically in warm colors such as red, orange, and gold, the perceptual experience is pleasantly strange and otherworldly.
In terms of conceptualizing the true nature of a splash, it is the floor sculpture “Ash” that best conveys the physicality of something that has been dropped and splattered across a flat surface. Composed of numerous broken mirror fragments, three colored mirror splashes, and several disco balls of varying sizes, it can be viewed from any angle, while always reflecting the viewer’s presence. Unlike the other works in the exhibition, it is also rich in metaphoric possibilities. The disco balls, for example, have left the ballroom ceiling for a pile of detritus, reminding us of the demise of the once thriving and electrifying Disco era. In a more general sense, the work evokes associations with the shattered dreams and aspirations of youth.