Turn (all works 2011), the only free-standing object in Florian Schmidt’s eponymous exhibition, stands out amongst a selection of wall-based pieces representing four new series entitled ‘Community’, ‘Immunity’, ‘Presence’ and ‘Hold’. Made of several pieces of timber forming a fragile, fence-like frame, Turn is deliberately positioned in the centre of the show, which stretches across four rooms. A physical barrier as well as a visual focus point, it is made of multiple repeating triangular and semi-circular shapes and almost entirely covered in white paint, only occasionally interrupted by casually placed snippets of dark paper. Whereas the title of the work, as in the ‘turn’ of a road, can be read as a reference to its repeated rounded shapes, it also seemingly instructs the viewer to look back, suggesting a temporal as well as spatial aspect that recurs within Schmidt’s work.
While, at first sight, the works in three of the series follow a more traditional painterly trajectory, in the ‘Presence’ series, wooden frames protrude from the wall to form sculptural frameworks reminiscent of Sol LeWitt modules. The frames appear as cages for the avial objects inside, made of cut and folded pieces of cheap cardboard. These wall-based works seemingly ache to dissociate themselves from the picture plane and morph into dynamic, three-dimensional sculptures. In a piece like Untitled(Presence)22, the irregular, geometric shapes within the frame appear to fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, but Schmidt has brutally stapled or nailed them together to stay in place. This technique is a recurring motif that carries through in the rest of the series in the exhibition.
Recalling painterly abstraction, works in the series ‘Hold’ – such as Untitled(Hold)09 and Untitled(Hold)10 – expose dark shadows like faint brushstrokes through the thin fabric, underneath which Schmidt has applied layers of cardboard. For both pieces, rather then working with conventional canvas, the artist used readymade cotton stretched over a frame. Consisting of two large-scale rectangles each, Untitled(Hold)09 and Untitled(Hold)10 are held together by a cheap timber frame and an overall coating of transparent acrylic gel. In Untitled(Hold)11, traces of the same gel recall brushstrokes implying a painterly expression, though in fact the colour is achieved through found material. Unlike the bright monochromes of Blinky Palermo’s ‘Stoffbilder’ (Fabric Pictures) of the 1960s and ’70s, which also made use of found pieces of fabric, Schmidt’s technique of nailing and stapling shapes onto the background alludes to a more intimate play with the works’ surface.
Throughout the exhibition, it seems that Schmidt is not referencing painting so much as acting it out, and his materials play a crucial role within this game of painterly displacement. Carefully chosen, it seems that they themselves appear as ‘imposters’ of fine art materials: the cardboard that morphs into sculptural shapes in ‘Presence’ is actually carton from removal boxes. His smooth, black painterly surfaces are material used for architectural models, and the bits of dark paper pasted on Turn are taken from calendars depicting famous art works, from which any traces of a recognizable image have been carefully omitted. In his essay ‘Painting Besides Itself’, published in issue 130 of October in 2009, David Joselit asks, as one of a number of questions about painting: ‘How can the status of painting as matter be made explicit?’ Although Schmidt’s hybrid works are neither monochromes nor readymades nor Abstract Expressionist explosions of paint’s materiality – all examples that Joselit cites – they ask us to reformulate the question of how painting as matter can be conceived within a contemporary artistic practice.