From Dust to Divinity: Two Berlin Exhibitions Foreground the Material

Black acrylic dust spread around the room during the process, and settled on white-primed canvases to form the grey-scale works of “ANNA.” As monochrome as the wintry sky outside, the canvases contain different gradations of paint particles; opaque, but somehow transformative surfaces, in which the viewer may be absorbed, as though in a cloud of fog. The dust settled randomly, rather than according to the control of the artist’s hand, so that the painter fades into the background, while material is foregrounded.

The Düsseldorf-based artist’s textured frieze forms an abstract enclosure around these volatile but smooth-seeming surfaces, the first of which are hung on a central freestanding wall. The fresco was formed by applying acrylic over canvas, then removing the fabric to leave its negative imprint—a grainy, woven effect, in the style of some of Czerlitzki’s past abstract works. It raises the question of what is left behind.

Next door, a crude sculpture by Brooklyn-based Justin Matherly contrasts with the slick flatness of Czerlitzki’s canvases, and the ephemerality of their dusty pigment. Metal legs stick out of a poured concrete structure, slabs set into an improvised mass. Like Czerlitzki’s work, the material traces are all-important: the rising facade is engraved with the limbs of Greek gods, criss-crossed with grooves, graffiti-ed with patches of spray paint. Its edges are left raw like eroded stone. Matherley’s Sunrise (2013) may be propped up with makeshift crutches and walkers, vulnerable but necessary, but there’s something monumental about it—a tomb-like presence rising out of readymade materials. 

 —Hannah Gregory

Paul Czerlitzki: ANNA” and “Justin Matherly: sunrise” are on view at Johann König, Berlin, Jan. 17–Feb. 21, 2015. 

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