Critics’ Picks

Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer, Ge'e M'a, 1981–83, crayon, acrylic, watercolor, plastic tape on reproduction, 18 3/8 x 22 5/8".

Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer, Ge'e M'a, 1981–83, crayon, acrylic, watercolor, plastic tape on reproduction, 18 3/8 x 22 5/8".

London

Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer

Hauser & Wirth London | Savile Row
23 Savile Row
March 14–May 3, 2014

Dieter Roth, Swiss-born but peripatetic, and Vienna-based Arnulf Rainer collaborated on the eighty-plus works on paper on view for over a decade beginning in 1972— sometimes during brief visits, sometimes via the post. In 2 Wrestlers, 1978, a few quick swipes of gray gouache on a nine-by-twelve-inch board obscure a background drawing in black crayon that just barely suggests a frenetic stick figure. Typical of the works in this show, the two wrestlers—if one can read such figures in these superimposed bursts of mark-making—resist interpretation as two heroic artists in a pitched battle: The drawing’s media (black crayon and ink on board), as well as its small format and blended authorship, upend artistic heroism. (Any psychological drama that might build in this stormy struggle is deflated by a cheerful little burp of yellow acrylic paint splattered just off-center.)

The collaboration, like any decade-long intimacy, ranges in tone. The early drawings are wiry squabbles of scribbling out and sallying back, with titles that hint at failure or triviality (e.g., Disguised as a Man Animal Standing in Cool Air—Bad Title, 1975). In a grouping of thirty drawings (fifteen of them making up one work) from 1981 to 1983 by Roth, Rainer, and Roth’s son Björn, mixed media, including felt pen and watercolor, swarm on top of ghostly black photocopies of sketches by Rainer. Many of these concentrated dark clouds bear a single hole torn in the paper, a release or puncturing of romantic charge.

Six monitors in the exhibition space play videos by Roth and Rainer of the two engaged in various activities with deadpan doggedness: drinking at a table, banging their heads on a lawn, drawing, or piling drawings into a trash bin. Their voices, often overlapping and indecipherable, emanate from the videos and fill the gallery, enhancing the sense that the collaboration recorded in the drawings remains open and alive.