Featuring paintings of several different kinds, as well as wall-mounted mirror objects and installation-based elements, the show highlights the artist’s use of painting––and the tropes associated with it––as a playfully experimental vehicle for posing questions, provocations, and aesthetic quandaries.
John Armleder consistently rewires presumptions about what art can be in the wake of the modernist and postmodernist revolutions of the last century. His early association with the Fluxus movement has provided the springboard for an ever-evolving array of projects and conceptual approaches––he has produced performances, music, sculptures, and installations as well as paintings––each of which leaves room for the operation of chance and the eruption of humor and pathos alike. These qualities posit Armleder as one of the most representative artists of his generation, and as a key figure in the story of Swiss art.
Armleder’s second solo exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery is organized around a central motif, a stylized splash of paint that is found in several different kinds of works, rendered in several different materials. Splashes and puddles have been defining characteristics of many of the paintings the artist has made over the last few years, so that this sharp-edged, graphic iteration alludes to––and symbolizes––a significant portion of his recent work, one in which he detaches the idea of the action-based splatter from the movement of the hand, undermining preconceptions about authenticity and the subjectivity of the heroic individual artist.
Even when it comes to the paintings with “actual” splatters and pours––several of which are included in this show––he proceeds less with specific compositional ideas in mind than with a curiosity about the interactions between different materials. In his Puddle Paintings, for instance, he often combines large quantities of paints made from contraindicated mediums that react in unpredictable ways, and throws glitter, toys, and other bric-a-brac into the still-wet puddles that accumulate. As they dry, visual and sculptural incidents emerge out of what seems like the materials’ own volition, exceeding the artist’s intention and placing him, like any other viewer, in a position where he can stand back and observe formal relationships between textures and colours.
Armleder’s Pour Paintings, meanwhile, focus attention on the movement of paint across the canvas as it is thrown. In each he privileges sweeping, calligraphic arcs (complete with the drips that fall from them), channeling the energies of abstract expressionism and action painting. And yet, as is often true of his work, these paintings somehow replace the solemnity of their modernist predecessors with a light-hearted appreciation for the ingenious nature and innate visual interest of their materials, not to mention the very act of creating and looking at energetic splashes of colour. In Sh/Ash/Lash/Splash he includes examples of the Pour Paintings that have also been emblazoned with a stenciled splatter. Symbol overlays gesture, and two seemingly competing ways of including a splatter in an artwork exist side-by-side, as if prodding one another into states of mutual admiration––and skepticism.