Critics’ Picks

Untitled (Europa), 2008, wood, 74 3/8 x 43 1/8 x 7 7/8".

Basel

Emil Michael Klein

Nicolas Krupp
Rosentalstrasse 28
January 11–March 1, 2008

The visitor unintentionally walks straight past the first piece, displayed at the entrance to this show, which comprises white paper and clear lacquer that Emil Michael Klein has used to cover, almost imperceptibly, one wall—an area that, due to its high gloss and minimal color modulation, stands out only subtly from its surroundings. The work shows Klein’s casual but precise handling of familiar art-historical categories like planarity and objectness. If the edges of the wall constitute a frame, the work becomes a monochrome painting. As with Jasper Johns’s flags, however, the background and the work overlap, a quality that gives the work an objectlike character, while its structural markings make it look almost like a relief. The row of windows in the gallery’s second room is covered by a tan pleated curtain. The sheer materiality of the fabric is reminiscent of a painter’s canvas, and its pipelike folds seem sculptural. The light that penetrates the curtain lends the room an atmosphere of continuing transformation and interrupts the coolness of the white cube. That Klein is also a trained woodcarver can be seen in the meticulously crafted wooden frames that he makes for each of his watercolors, which remind one of modernist abstractions done in the Bauhaus style. They also assiduously tread the line between painting and sculpture and, together with the carved frames, fit into the conventional definition of the latter as the removal of material. Like Klein's spatial interventions, his paintings demonstrate an impressive flair for composition and color. In the third room, a bipartite unpainted wooden sculpture stands boldly upright. Its upper piece angled slightly toward the ground, the work rests in perfect equilibrium and seems almost to be winking at the viewer.