Critics’ Picks

View of “Ave Vala,” 2012.


Matti Braun

Weydingerstraße 10
January 14–March 3

For over ten years Matti Braun has blended diverse artistic media, such as Asian textiles, handblown glass, and photography, producing work that highlights the integrative abilities and ambiguities of culture. In “Ave Vala,” Braun continues to merge techniques, this time generating sixteen variously sized paintings by stretching silk as one would ordinary canvas, and then dripping and dropping plain fabric dye onto the material. The results are abstract compositions of complex cloudlike shapes reminiscent of Paul Jenkins’s lyrical abstractions; Braun’s multicolored shapes pull us into their kaleidoscopic web. Despite this aesthetic similarity, Braun’s paintings are autonomous products of a cultural synthesis, not the continuation of a monolithic school.

The show’s title recalls words and phrases such as avenue and Ave Maria, but it has a closer link to the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland and one of the most important pieces of Finnish literature. The inspiration for Braun’s folkloric tableaux stems in part from European lore, but also from the complexly patterned Javanese textiles known as batik. Both traditions have a religious aspect, and although Braun’s fusion of styles makes use of this spirituality it is not burdened by it. Many of the paintings seem psychedelic; they give the impression that one is watching a swirling mass of bright colors expanding before your eyes. Offsetting these, however, are several pieces made with darker lacquers. These shadowy pieces, more primordial than pious, evoke murky cosmic eruptions.

The works’ mythic quality is especially strong in the main gallery, where part of a wall has been removed and three large dyed canvases hung in its place, creating a churchlike atmosphere. Myths, like religion, help to explain our origins by gesturing toward something greater than the immediate. Braun’s evocative works also point beyond their own amalgamated character, signaling the ever-changing universe of cultural memes.