Critics’ Picks

View of “COPY + OWNERSHIP,” 2012.

New York

Eberhard Havekost

Anton Kern Gallery
16 East 55th Street
October 25 - December 22

Those familiar with Eberhard Havekost’s previous output might deem the three large, colorful canvases near the entrance to his latest exhibition a radical departure from the photo-based paintings the German artist has been making for over a decade. Together the three canvases actually form two discrete pieces—Schöner Wohnen B12 (Better Living B12) and a diptych, Copy + Property B12 (all works 2012)—both inspired by test patterns once broadcast as calibration aids for television screens. These canvases also signal a circuitous return to Havekost’s long-standing preoccupation with the visible traces of transmission and mediation that images often incur before reaching our eyes.

Havekost has taken this exhibition as an opportunity to oscillate playfully between a few very divergent types of painting. He typically works from photographs, often ones whose lineage begins somewhere in the digital realm before being captured as screenshots, which he subsequently prints and then transcribes onto a canvas using an old-fashioned grid and ratio technique. His smooth gestures delineate form while readily homogenizing into an undifferentiated whole, approximating the effects of the systematic, reparative interjections that occur in digital images when transfers in scale run afoul. Somehow this approach manages to reallocate to painting photography’s power to capture scenes from life that are simultaneously evocative yet uninspiring.

Images change and degrade as media impart their own characteristics upon them. With greater movement they become increasingly less substantial until it is difficult to determine where their substance lies or whether they have any “substance” at all. This example of a basic metaphysical problem is given tangible form when, as the title of the test-pattern diptych suggests, images enter the sociopolitical sphere, becoming, in essence, property. Perhaps the distinction between copy and ownership was easier to detect in an earlier time when analog technologies like painting and restricted broadcast laid more certain claim to the dissemination of culture. Nevertheless, do not mistake Havekost’s chosen image-matter for a nostalgic embrace of the perceived bedrock of some bygone era. His new, pluralistic take on his characteristic concern delights in the troubling uncertainty of the here and now.