Critics’ Picks

View of “Charline von Heyl,” 2018.

View of “Charline von Heyl,” 2018.


Charline von Heyl

Deichtorhallen Hamburg
Deichtorstrasse 1 + 2
June 22–September 23, 2018

You could spend all day in this exhibition—Charline von Heyl’s first major European institutional survey—and not experience a moment of boredom, such is the fun and sophistication of the artist’s formal language. With more than sixty mostly medium- to large-format paintings on display, there’s much to get lost in. I find that von Heyl works best in monochrome; my favorite here is Bois-tu de la bière?, 2012, in which black lines on a pure yellow background sketch the perimeters of a TV-like box until, in the lower right-hand corner, they suddenly jut out toward the center, fracturing the imaginary glass to just barely enunciate a canine shape. But it is the painting’s entirety, its disjointed overallness, that truly barks.
Von Heyl’s more designy paintings often have comic undertones by way of formalist piss-takes. Trotted out is the classic Modernist dilemma: There’s so much history, how to make a painting now? Idolores, 2011, offers one of many riffs on Agnes Martin’s vertical grid structures. Though instead of making those pale wallpaper-esque lines the painting, she plops her own warped and layered abstraction—somewhat resembling a skull caged in a woven metal fence and crowned with black isosceles triangles—on top: vandalism! Along with an Asger Jorn retrospective in the same building, this exhibition suggests the tremendous discipline appearing undisciplined demands; the two painters each cultivate their own versions of unruliness in an output whose prolificacy reveals the obsessiveness at the core of their lifelong projects.