Critics’ Picks

View of “Laura Langer: Liberty,” 2020.

View of “Laura Langer: Liberty,” 2020.

Frankfurt

Laura Langer

Portikus
Alte Brücke 2 / Maininsel
February 15–April 12, 2020

For Laura Langer’s first institutional solo show, the Argentinian artist fine-tunes semiotic equivalences. In her large-scale painting Trumpet (all works cited, 2019), the circular opening of the wind instrument’s bell fills the otherwise white canvas, as the reflections of a bedroom, littered with laundry, warp in the shiny reflection of brass and its golden lip. But the center of gravity for the canvas, which is abstracted as much by perspective as by brushstrokes, is the immense hollow at its heart. Another shambolic apartment is visible through skeins of orange paint on the six canvases of “Never titled, 1–6.” Bathed in natural light, every surface of this home is covered in clothes, bursting out of suitcases and bins. Through the titian haze the question is visible: Und Ihr? or, And you?

The artist borrowed the question from an Austro-Hungarian World War I propaganda poster depicting a soldier in the trenches, the linguistic correlative to Uncle Sam’s pointed index finger. For Langer, though, the interrogation is no longer directed toward unenthused civilians but to the slovenly bedroom’s owner; and it is detritus, not the Allied Powers or low recruitment rates, that symbolizes the enemy.

While the yawning mouth of the trumpet evokes a closeup barrel of a gun, crumpled red sweaters recall wounded men. And just as the troops recruiter engaged in psychological and physical warfare, both Trumpet and “Never titled” rely on a weapon of a different kind: guilt. Langer says of cleaning a room that the hardest part is beginning, but that all we need is a wake-up call. In “Liberty,” Langer excavates societal woes from piles of banality, uncovering a desire for action in the face of chaos.