Critics’ Picks

View of “Andreas Johnen: What You See Is What You Get!,” 2016.

View of “Andreas Johnen: What You See Is What You Get!,” 2016.


Andreas Johnen

Jochen Hempel Gallery | Leipzig
Spinnereistraße 07
November 5–December 17, 2016

In Andreas Johnen’s show, the title “What You See Is What You Get!” rings true, but one has to look very closely. The German artist’s exhibition of watercolors from the past six years at first appears to be a simple display of abstract shapes and monochromes. However, as an extension of Johnen’s sculptural practice, the works achieve an almost three-dimensional quality. Two large untitled watercolors are composed of up to 140 layers which were allowed to spread across the surface of the paper according to the angle at which they were left to dry or which were guided by temporary tape and plastic film. The range of colors merge with the paper in soft clouds, an at once light and incredibly dense accumulation of time, labor, and material.

In an adjacent room, five large unframed and untitled monochrome works from 2015 are lightly attached to the wall. Here, a process of spilling two liters of paint onto the paper and removing the excess with a sponge was repeated up to 120 times, until the paper was completely saturated. The pieces give the impression of five vertical landscapes––like the desert seen from the sky, or the surface of the moon, all wrinkled and bulky and completely intense.

The rhythmic calm of Johnen’s process translates into some highly auratic and poetic works. In a series of twelve untitled square monochromes from 2010 to 2016, 70 to more than 120 layers of an unmixed shade of watercolor were meticulously applied to paper until each hue emerges as its own strikingly haptic texture: a red like a soft velvet, or deep gray like a matte rubber. What we get is something quite simple, but to actually see it is a rare pleasure.