GERWALD ROCKENSCHAUB: Geometric Playground (Flamboyant Edit)
GALERIE EVA PRESENHUBER | MARCH 10 – APRIL 29, 2018
Berlin-based Austrian Gerwald Rockenschaub’s latest sharp and inventive installation defamiliarizes Bauhaus basics. Rockenschaub has been a well-known artist in Europe for some time, so it’s good to see the work presented here, although it’s the tenth solo exhibition for Rockenschaub at this gallery, it’s the first at Presenhuber, New York. The title of this exhibition references the artist’s involvement in music as a successful techno D.J. and composer of electronic music. Berlin’s techno scene is of course as legendary as its visual art scene.
Since the beginning of the 1980s, when Rockenschaub abandoned painting by hand, he has trialed his compositions on a computer screen before having the results produced industrially. His work deliberately hybridizes design and fine art—where fabrication is involved, it is so precise as to seem functional. The placement and color of the four wall works in the main gallery recalls constructivism, as well as signage from our built environment: making of the gallery an aesthetic playground. Geometric shapes are painted directly onto the walls, over which are placed other geometric shapes cut industrially from sheets of acrylic glass. Associations with the work of other artists include Henri Matisse’s Swimming Pool (1952) made from cut papers, and Aleksandr Rodchenko’s paintings and graphic works from the 1920s when he was teaching construction and metal work at VKhUTEMAS—Russia’s equivalent to the German Bauhaus. Untitled (2018) occupies a short section of wall at the end of the gallery; flanked by two doorways, a bright yellow, wall-painted, skewed rectangle rises diagonally from left to right. Two perfect acrylic glass ovals, one white the other black, sit vertically within the yellow like two misaligned cartoon eyes, or a very unlikely Ellsworth Kelly shaped canvas. All the acrylic glass reflects the gallery and any movement in it, integrating by enfolding the viewer passing along the wall, away from the wall or across the gallery space. The acrylic screws that hold the acrylic glass to the wall are practical rather than decorative in their function—like rivets or staples.
Six small intarsia works are installed on the entrance gallery’s wall—black lines of acrylic glass inlaid into painted white rectangles of MDF. They read like tersely rendered, but elegant signs or diagrams. Perhaps their origin is also the computer or I-phone screen via a drawing app. Intarsia is a type of marquetry that was widely practiced in 15th century Italy: again, design and fine art procedures are conflated. Presented in the lower gallery are three works each of inlaid acrylic glass and color foil on alucore (aluminum composite panel). The inlaid works have wooden frames and comprise simple curvilinear or geometric compositions. They are schematic simplifications that could easily be either picturing something from real world experience or playfully generated apropos of nothing in particular via a screen. The alucore works relate strongly to the wall works upstairs, abstract compositions—formalist Pop samples that bring to mind anything from imaginary direction signs (traffic flows, do not step on the grass etc.) to fictional commercial logos.
Rockenschaub’s work cannot be easily categorized. Playful and engaged with the world and its technologies as it is, it also has a formal exactitude that deploys abstraction’s constructivist history as much as the potential of architectural intervention. There are no sculptures included in this exhibition, but it is not going to be surprising to know that what we are seeing here often takes three-dimensional form and wrests the specific object from its pristine context and further associates it with the industrial technological environment.
DAVID RHODES is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK. He has published reviews in the Brooklyn Rail, Artforum, and Artcritical, among other publications.