Critics’ Picks

Kurt Schwerdtfeger, Reflektorische Farblichtspiele (Reflecting Color-Light-Play) (detail), 1922/2016, wood, spotlights, gels, and electrical switchboard, dimensions variable.

Kurt Schwerdtfeger, Reflektorische Farblichtspiele (Reflecting Color-Light-Play) (detail), 1922/2016, wood, spotlights, gels, and electrical switchboard, dimensions variable.

New York

Kurt Schwerdtfeger

Microscope Gallery
1329 Willoughby Avenue
January 31–March 22, 2020

Reflektorische Farblichtspiele (Reflecting Color-Light-Play, 1922/2016) by the Bauhaus artist Kurt Schwerdtfeger (1897–1966) is a type of artwork that, even after nearly a century, still manages to startle. It reminds one of how astoundingly radical the German school and other such early modernist experiments could be. The piece is a cube-like projection device, measuring roughly eight feet on all sides. It features colored lights, a system to control them, and several rails for sliding wooden panels with geometric patterns cut into them. All of this is operated by performers who hide inside the structure, producing a polychromatic light show accompanied by music for a willing audience.

The first iteration of this sculpture was lost, but it was remade in 1966 by the artist and his students, who were filmed while performing inside of it. That footage is not on view at the gallery, but there is video documentation of Reflektorische in action, in addition to a vitrine with plenty of archival materials, including a 1923 Bauhaus catalogue containing two images of the work. The most current version of Schwerdtfeger’s contraption here is based on the aforementioned film, as well as notes from the artist’s estate and his son’s memories of the piece. 

Refined, elaborate, mesmerizing—Schwerdtfeger’s experimental masterpiece calls to mind abstract films by some of his contemporaries, such as Hans Richter or Viking Eggeling. However, Reflektorische goes even further, as it is a living sculptural presence, a theatrical object in space, foretelling the emergence of expanded cinema and installation art. Indeed, the piece’s ideological underpinnings are clearly inspired by the Bauhausian drive toward the Gesamtkunstwerk. Schwerdtfeger brought together multiple disciplines and a variety of media to create a highly concentrated and singular aesthetic experience that, after all this time, continues to scintillate.