BY Bettina Brunner in Reviews | 19 MAR 12
Featured in
Issue 146

Alexander Wolff

BY Bettina Brunner in Reviews | 19 MAR 12

Alexander Wolff Untitled, 2011

Berlin-based artist Alexander Wolff’s practice has always been concerned with the contextualization of his works in the exhibition space. In his 2009 exhibition at Galerie Mezzanin, he allowed the gallery staff to rearrange the hang throughout the course of the show. In his most recent exhibition at the gallery, Wolff displayed several recent works on canvas (all untitled, 2011), some of them set against a backdrop of wall paintings developed in collaboration with a group of art students.

The black and white images multiplied on two screen-printed canvases, one of which depicted the covers of 1980s church programme booklets, the other a blurry photograph of the gallery’s interior. The majority of the canvases, however, consisted of several pieces of dyed fabric sewn together and placed over stretchers to take the shape of conventional paintings. These patchwork canvases explore formal composition on two levels: firstly, through the pieces of fabric assembled in random patterns or as minimalist grids; and secondly, the application of the fabric dye created circular or semi-circular shapes that conveyed a definitive sense of formal composition and serial reproduction throughout.

On one of the gallery’s walls, the canvases and their backdrop of gigantic, column-like stripes fitted together uncomfortably. The canvases’ pale greys, blues and blacks, with large areas of the white textile surfaces left bare, stood in sharp contrast to the sensuous, golden colour-scheme dominating the wall’s surface. Each of the four painted columns displayed the expressive gestures of an individual’s brushstroke, whether swirls reminiscent of fake marble, or Art Brut-like faces and lines. In the student workshop that gave rise to the wall paintings, Wolff presented the canvases he intended to show in the exhibition as well as excerpts of his video Churches on West Adams Boulevard (2010–11). He also provided the participants with photocopied pages of research on the history of wall painting, ranging from Renaissance chapels to home improvement manuals. These were displayed as Wallpainting Reader (2012) on a makeshift table along with the booklet After The Wall Painting Reader (2012), consisting of bound sheets of paper printed with leaves, polka-dots and the like.

The photocopied pages from Wall Painting Reader re-emerged as the large-scale collage Wallpaintingreader-Wallpainting-Reader-Wall (2012). Here, Wolff’s photocopied research meets pink sheets of paper, which can also be found in the After The Wall Painting Reader booklet. Such use of photocopies and their reproductions might seem to further question the notion of authorship within the exhibition that Wolff introduced in his collaborative wall paintings. In reality, Wolff never really parts with his artistic authority. Only the works on canvas and Wallpaintingreader-Wallpainting-Reader-Wall are listed as individual pieces on the gallery handout. The wall paintings, thus, functioned as part of an interior re-decoration plan – something more reminiscent of a private home than an art gallery.

The inclusion of Wolff’s video Churches on West Adams Boulevard, took this mingling of architectural types in yet another direction. The video is a sort of documentary showing exterior and interior views of places of worship on a Los Angeles street known for its unusually high number of churches. Clearly inspired by Ed Ruscha’s photo series Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972), Wolff’s video explores the typology of a specific form of architecture with its particular yet diverse spatial and formal qualities. With this in mind, the three golden columns he created for Galerie Mezzanin might also have referred to the bombastic interior architecture of Baroque churches. In his juxtaposition of this décor with his series of formal, abstract paintings normally suited for white gallery walls, Wolff arranges a meeting of architectural and painterly discourses with those of exhibition design and its ideology.