For about one decade, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s – when he passed away prematurely at the age of 35 – Ull Hohn moved forward with coherent theoretical and formal research that investigated painting, forcing its limits and offering an aesthetic model that remains timely today if seen in the context of a more general debate on painting that is still open, searching for conclusions.
His career took place inside a very precise historical and artistic context, passing from studies at the Academy of Düsseldorf with Gerhard Richter to the experience of the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York, where he lived starting in 1986. In a moment when the second period of Institutional Critique was developing, in which painting was viewed with suspicion, Hohn absorbed and processed, in an utterly personal way, the trends and theories that informed the art debate in those years, finding a way to make critical thinking and the pure practice of painting coexist.
During the short span of his life the artist experimented with different styles and registers, moving from abstraction to landscape painting that cites the 19th-century works of Albert Bierstadt and of the Hudson River School; from exercises of a pedagogical nature inspired by Bob Ross and his television program “The Joy of Painting”, to the series of the Revisions, works made before his death in which he reproduced certain subjects painted prior to his academic studies. These are some examples of a stylistic promiscuity that, looking back, reveals its integrity precisely in Hohn’s attempt to make a kind of painting “beyond painting” without giving up his attachment to that language. The exhibition springs from the desire to underline the value of this assumption and to reflect on the timely pertinence of research that challenged painting from within painting.
Painting, painting is the first institutional exhibition to trace back through the moments of Hohn’s output through a selection that draws on the various series he made. The display of the works, not in chronological order, is structured to start with two important series from 1988, Nine Landscapes and Off The Wall, installed on two diametrically opposite walls at the start and end of the exhibition space. Between these two extremes that condense the fundamental nuclei of Ull Hohn’s research, all the phases of his career are represented, in a path shaped and paced by the dialogue with the work of Tom Burr. The reasons behind this juxtaposition can be found in Burr’s profound understanding of the work of Ull Hohn, which beyond the relationship of a private nature between the two had its roots in the same historical-artistic context and the sharing of similar experiences, starting with that of the Whitney Independent Study Program.
Tom Burr’s contribution to the exhibition starts precisely from the memory of that experience, and particularly of the wall that separated his studio from that of Ull Hohn. Thinking back on that architectural element as an object that separates and joins at the same time, which defines a space and regulates the movement of bodies inside it, Burr has made four structures that allude to the four walls of a room, broken down and relocated in different points in space. Each of these “walls” reflects, hosts and obscures the paintings of Ull Hohn, framing not only the works but also the audience that observes them, activating a mechanism of mimesis and doubling of the “original” wall, the formal manifestation of desire, nostalgia, affection.
The dichotomy of intimacy and detachment to which these structures allude is the same one that marked the artistic practice of Ull Hohn from the outset. Constantly wavering between a conscious distancing and an aesthetic engagement with painting, Hohn demonstrated how a theoretical and conceptual approach to painting can also come from virtuosity, from mastery of the medium, from the stylistic exercises that were seen with suspicion in those years – and still are – and how painting can become “different” even when it remains inherently to itself.
Ull Hohn (Trier, 1960 – Berlin, 1995) began to study painting at the age of 20 when he moved to Berlin to go to art school, studying with Kuno Gonschior. Four years later, in 1984, Hohn enrolled at the Künstakademie in Düsseldorf and became a student of Gerhard Richter. In 1986 he left Germany to move to New York, where one year later he took part in the Whitney Independent Study Program, an experience that had a fundamental impact on his output and his approach to painting, which became more theoretical and conceptual. The New York scene opened Hohn up to some utterly new perspectives. Questions connected with identity, sexuality and gender differences were central issues in the art debate in those years, and Hohn began to come to terms with those themes. It was in this moment, precisely in 1988, that he made some of his most important series of paintings: Nine Landscapes and Untitled, both shown in the final exhibition of the Whitney Program, and Off The Wall. In 1989 he had a solo show at the Julian Pretto/Berland Hall Gallery, followed the next year by a show at White Columns and, in 1991, a solo show at Randy Alexander, New York. In 1993 he showed work at American Fine Arts, New York. Two years later the artist died prematurely, at the age of 35. Posthumous solo shows of his work include: Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (Philip Morris Art Sponsoring), 1996; Ull Hohn: Malerei, Galerie Neu, Berlin, 2000; Off the Wall, Galerie Neu, Berlin, 2006; Ull Hohn, Between Bridges, London, 2009; Ull Hohn, Algus Greenspon, New York, 2009; Galerie Neu, Berlin, 2010. Groups shows that have included his work in recent years: Optik Schröder. Werke aus der Sammlung Schröder, Künstverein Braunschweig, 2006; UNTITLED (Ohne Titel), NGBK, Berlin, 2010; Time Again, The Sculpture Center, New York, 2011. Tom Burr (New Haven, Connecticut, 1963) lives and works in New York. After studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York, in 1987-88 he took part in the Whitney Independent Study Program. From the start of the 1990s to the present his solo shows have been presented in museums and institutions all over the world: Gravity Moves Me, FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, 2011; Bovincini/Burr, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel and Lenbachhaus, Munich (with Monica Bonvicini), 2009; Addict-Love, Sculpture Center, New York, 2008; Swiss Institute, New York (with Walter Pfeiffer), 2007; Anxiety – A Showcase, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, 2007; Moods, Secession, Vienna, 2007;
Tom Burr: Extrospective: Works 1994–2006, Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne, 2006; Deep Purple, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2002; Low Slung, Kunstverein Braunschweig, 2000; White Columns, New York, 1992. He has participated in many group shows, including: The Present of Modernism, MuMOK, Vienna, 2014; Deviance Credits, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-onHudson, NY, 2014; Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2014; Anamericana, American Academy, Rome, 2013; Outside the Lines, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, 2013; Moby Dick, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA, 2009; Political/Minimal, Kunst-Werke – Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2008; Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st. Century, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 2007; BODYPOLITICX, Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2007; Das achte Feld. Geschlechter, Leben und Begehren in der Kunst seit 1960, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2006. He also took part at the 12th Istanbul Biennial in 2011 and the Biennial of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 2004.