In their joint exhibition ROMs, presented by max goelitz, Lou Jaworski and Michael Venezia enter into a cross-generational dialogue that draws a suspenseful arc over the last 60 years of art. The clash between their visual and sculptural positions creates a space for reflection and negotiation, in which the boundaries of traditional art genres, and even art itself, are explored.
The (art) historical origin of this discussion can be found in the heated debates of the 1960s that sparked the Minimal Art movement. “At least half of the best new works that have emerged in recent years belong neither to painting nor to sculpture,” wrote Donald Judd in his influential essay Specific Objects in 1965, elegantly summing up the genre-transcending and transgressive tendency of minimalism.
In contrast to the modernist demands of art critic Clement Greenberg, the specific objects that Judd had in mind are neither media-specific, nor do they bother with the question of autonomy. In addition to their deliberately intermediary status, the works of minimalism withdraw themselves from their own formal language: instead of an original, self-referential artistic signature, they are characterized by the use of industrial products and procedures as well as the immediate perception of materials, processes and spaces. In a conscious turn towards reality – towards the factual reality of objects and the actual realities of the viewer - a meaningful step is taken that marks the path from modernity to a contemporary society, from art to reality.
Both Jaworski and Venezia are able to walk this fine line. They skillfully position themselves within the art historical and theoretical developments of the last 60 years, react adeptly to their challenges and – under historically evolving circumstances – find their own and original answers to questions that have arisen since Minimalism.
Venezia, who, next to Judd, is one of the most important protagonists of Minimal Art, has been developing a remarkable body of work with his so-called Twill, Stripe, Spray, Bar and Block paintings since the late 1960s, testing the outer limits of painting. He situates himself between the modernist abstraction of Pollock, Rothko or Newman and the intermediary and site-specific tendencies of his minimalist colleagues, taking a completely independent path in the process. In his Spray Paintings, created between 1966 and 1973 and the focal point of this exhibition, a mixture of oil or acrylic paint and metal pigments is applied to canvas or paper with a spray gun. Shot for shot, he brings his spots of color onto the medium. With this color shot act, which can never be fully controlled, Venezia questions the myth of the sovereign artist subject as well as the autarchic image.
In Untitled (1971), for example, he relinquishes the integrity of the image in favor of semi-controlled coincidence and the sheer physical force of his spray gun. The bright, shining paint on black canvas, enriched with aluminium pigments testifies to the fundamental, media-specific interest in gestural-geometric abstraction with its serial rasterization and elemental coloration. However, through Venezia‘s innovative method, color, in particular, gains such a material quality and independence that it detaches itself from purely painterly questions about the self-referential relationship between figure and ground, image carrier and application of paint. In works such as Untitled (1971) or CV1 (1972), the silver or rust-red paint shots are eerily reminiscent of the congealed gunshot wounds of a penetrated torso, creating a connection to our own bodily experience.
These references are to be understood as actual, not just mere metaphors or associations. In practical terms, Venezia‘s pictures can be perceived as objects in space reacting to the exhibition space. When the metal pigments reflect the current light and room conditions, or the color is directly applied to the wooden beams as in Venezia’s Bar Paintings, thus turning them into autonomous objects, his paintings break the boundaries of the pictorial and broaden the perception of reality in this specific space.
The reality of Jaworski‘s magnetic sculptures is almost entirely detached from the observer. In these works, in development since 2017, the artist consistently pursues the demands of the objects by creating structures of which the processes, forms and materials are indifferent to our own perception.
At first sight, works like I (2020) evoke the materialistic and formative vocabulary of Donald Judd: the ferrite magnet material commonly utilized by heavy industry, the withdrawal of the artist‘s personal hand in the production of the geometric shape, as well as the serial arrangement of repeated elements in space. In contrast to the self-reference of minimalism to its forms of presentation, however, I present itself as a self-contained system completely independent of our reception.
Based on the physical laws of attraction and repulsion, the poles of the ferrite magnets assemble themselves into independent structures without the artist‘s intervention. The almost organic dimension of these self-sufficient systems becomes particularly vivid in works like A (2020). The individual parts appear to grow and decay, much like the genesis and demise of bodies. Despite their tangible material form, they eternally retain the potential to change. It may not be obvious at first glance, but Jaworski‘s magnetic sculptures enter into a continuous process from the moment they are created, their sensitive equilibrium threatened to be shaken by the resisting forces of the magnetic poles.
Almost a synthetic summary, the two-part floor work AIRLINES (2020) illustrates the central arthistorical and theoretical questions in Jaworski‘s work. In it, the historical references to the art of the sixties seem to condense with the current debates about an object-oriented ontology. This object-oriented ontology is a philosophical position in which the existence of things is no longer dependent upon human perception and experience, but rather is assumed to be beyond any anthropocentric perspective. In art theoretical terms, this means that both the phenomenological and aesthetic premises of the post-sixties are being undermined in favor of the effectiveness and independence of the objects. In the work, geometrically formed or abstractly broken magnetic sculptures are situated on two rasterized grids and interrelate with one another. A complex network emerges that extends into the exhibition space. Some elements protrude like towers, guiding the magnetic trajectories of both platforms through radio signals that are inaudible to us as outsiders. The physical laws of attraction and repulsion at work are beyond our influence. Our presence, reception and interpretation are not relevant to the self-contained system.
In the disinterested self-sufficiency of his obstinate objects, Jaworski finds a thoroughly original answer to the question of the contemporary autonomy of art. Yet what he as an artist seems to be more interested in is, regardless of this, the independence of things.
In addition to the magnetic sculptures, the exhibition also presents wall pieces made of 10 x 10 cm ferrite magnet squares and offset prints that negotiate questions of intermediality, media specificity and autonomy. Jaworski‘s square and rectangular magnetic tiles refer to Carl Andre, bringing his minimalist floor panels to the wall in an innovative perspective shift. The flat reliefs simultaneously play with their own painterly two-dimensionality as well as with their three-dimensional plasticity. The logical grid of the individual geometric elements both relate to the self-referential autonomy of abstract art as well as to the self-structuring principles of magnetic poles: towards an autarky beyond art. In Jaworski‘s offset prints we discover a different kind of grid, namely one of printed halftone dots. The intermediary position between planarity and plasticity of the prints is negotiated under various conditions: in particular the visual vocabulary of ‘the Digital’ and its translation into something three-dimensional; furthermore, the spatial-physical effect developed with observation.
(Text by Danijel Matijević, Curatorial assistent at Fridericianum, Kassel)