Critics’ Picks

Gerhard Marx, Skull III, 2011, plant material, acrylic paint and glue on cotton paper, 29 1/2 x 22”.

Cape Town

Gerhard Marx

Goodman Gallery | Cape Town
176 Sir Lowry Road Fairweather House, 3rd Floor
January 22–February 12, 2011

Tenuously trapped in veils of glue, Gerhard Marx’s spindly weeds and other dregs of the Johannesburg veld outline piles of excavated bones in his “Cumulus” series (all works 2011). Invoking the construction and aesthetic of the Hortus Siccus tradition of dried plants, these pressed bits of garden debris form “cumulative” drawings in that they sketch remnants of skeletons and reveal palimpsestic glimpses of pentimenti beneath. But more than the cloudy logic of condensation implied by the title, these are works of evaporation and dessication: sun-baked, bone-dry.

In another compelling series, these feathery stalks trace the contours of a bleached skull. Dust joins dust as a cranium vanishes into the whiteness of its paper ground, or sprouts serpentine appendages in successive iterations. The Ovidian Scion, a bronze-cast wooden rib cage germinating branches, rounds out these varied graftings of arboreal and human limbs: branch into bone, body into landscape.

Weather I and II are sculptural accumulations of calibrated black rulers angled downward that again gesture to Marx’s stockpiling processes, yet here the meteorological connotations reinforced by both form and title begin to overdetermine the exhibition’s “Cumulus” framework. The instability and imminent rupture that clouds conjure chafe against the quiet assertiveness of the show; similarly, the artist’s statement, which locates his work on the border between form and formlessness, failed to resonate for me with the logic of Marx’s practice. (That cumulus clouds are distinguished by their clearly defined edges doesn’t help matters.)

Fiercely delicate, hesitantly insistent, the work has other strengths: Marx’s show seems to be animated less by a potential collapse of form than by a vanquishing of it. Line weaves fragments together; contours triumph over ground, holding amorphousness well at bay. Indeed, it is the victory of material presence over the disintegrative breath of time that these bones attest to.