Günther Förg’s Grid Paintings Fuse the Geometries of Architecture and the Internet
Currently on view at Almine Rech’s London space, Günther Förg’s untitled works from 2006–07, part of the artist’s ongoing series of “Grid Paintings,” are simultaneously intimate—the brushstrokes ripe with an expressionist’s thick, sweeping gestures—and distant, the minimalist lines suggesting a view of a cityscape. On one hand, the paintings recall open windows; on the other, metal crossbars. A window, even in its stoic geometry, is uncannily provocative. It offers a frame through which to look; it controls the gaze, constraining the infinite outside; it reflects the viewer back and asks: who is doing the looking and at what?
Each large-scale acrylic painting is accompanied by its counterpart in watercolor, making for a playful back-and-forth of scale, proportion, and repetition. On closer inspection, though, the two are identical in the way twins are, with slight distinctions, deviations. The lines evoke the screens we interact with everyday, radiant but restless, or aerial views of landscapes, divided but distant. The colors are earth-toned and the white background bright, throbbing like a screen with sentience. Förg’s signature is prominent on the top right corner, offering a cursive reminder of the human behind the mesh of squares.
The canvases are also replete with art historical references, spanning Bauhaus, to De Stijl, to Abstract Expressionism, Modernism, and Minimalism. Compositions that encapsulate and elude all these categories result: they are conceptual in the way they transcend time and contemporary in the way they embody simultaneity. Three sets of grids are tightly packed, almost eliminating the canvas at their base, while the other two sets provide openness, air, and luminosity to the white primer beneath. The works, seen as a whole, make a kind of music—a rhythm of expansion and contraction, light and dark, breathability and asphyxiation. The gallery’s own large windows and wooden floors become part of the platform on which these paintings perform.
Förg’s work, however, extends far beyond these walls. Born in Germany in 1952, his early art consisted of photographs of buildings, which by the ’90s morphed into Mondrian- or Barnett Newman-influenced unitary lines on lead-covered wooden panels. Later, he abandoned the rigid stillness of those compositions to arrive at the atrophied architecture of this exhibit. And yet, this series does not mark the end of this succession of transformations: paintings made only a year later consist of pastel squiggles, as if embodying the momentary act of crooking one’s neck to peer past the verge of the window.
—Himali Singh Soin
“To London! A Selection of Paintings” is on view at Almine Rech Gallery, June 4-July 25, 2015.