Critics’ Picks

Rui Chafes, Inferno XXX, 2012, steel, 43 x 17 x 6 3/4".

Rui Chafes, Inferno XXX, 2012, steel, 43 x 17 x 6 3/4".


“Black Rainbow”

A1 Quoz 1, Street 8, Alserkal Avenue Unit 37
January 10–March 10, 2014

At first glance, “Black Rainbow”—a show confronting the universe of Portuguese sculptor Rui Chafes and of German artist Ralf Ziervogel—seems like a Minimalist affair. Chafes’s sleek black sculptures parsimoniously dot the space, while Ziervogel’s pieces (monochrome, gesso-smeared canvases—Eskimolied II and Eskimolied III, both 2013) from a distance carry little more than Constructivist-style line clusters. Yet the show revels in a rich materiality. For all their steely elegance, Chafes’s works have an alluring rubberlike finish that draws the viewer to the brink of touch. Similarly, a sense of tactility prevails in Eskimolied (1-6), 2013. Increasingly frenetic black-ink finger swipes cover five consecutive iPad-size paper panels, the gestures chronicling a kind of user breakdown resulting in a final “shattered” screen, in which cracks, also rendered in black ink, extend in concentric circles from a central fist print. Pleasantly graphic, palpably material, the work makes physical a moment of madness.

Throughout “Black Rainbow,” an almost paradoxical tension between Zen-like Minimalism and up close violence emerges, hinging on our physical engagement with each work. From afar, Chafes’s Dream of Giorgio di Chirico, 2012, seems unsettling, almost scary: A blossom-like formation of four spoon-shaped petals crown a menacing prong. As viewers move nearer, the soft surface beckons while the sharp edges repel. It is like a highly aestheticized trap, at once tempting and treacherous. Meanwhile, a vortex of violence lurks in Ziervogel’s Eskimolied II and Eskimolied III. Each line in the series’ Constructivist clusters is made of minuscule, obsessively executed texts that can only be read with a magnifier. They turn out to be sociopathic rants that bring us screeching back to Ziervogel’s previous work: a signature world of flayed figures choreographed in a darkly complex cosmos. What the artist used to show us in imagery, we now have to read. The exercise is excruciating, the effect dizzying.

Sparsely yet masterfully hung to amplify dialogues between the works, “Black Rainbow” is a powerful testament to artistic obsession that ultimately functions like one enormous double take: Can we really trust what we think we see?