Critics’ Picks

Michael Conrads, The Big Raushole, 2009, emulsion paint, oil, varnish, paper on canvas, 67 x 51".


Michael Conrads

Admiralitätstrasse 71
June 27–July 25

Michael Conrads creates ornamental surfaces in his paintings that are layered on abstract pictorial spaces and fractured patterns. Previously, triangles and stacked rhombuses with slightly irregular rhythms were among the structural motifs in his work. Though the pieces in this exhibition are clearly related to those pictorial practices, Conrads appears more interested in formal developments. Here, he plays surface composition against painterly, illusionistic space, negotiating these elements through an appealing amount of contradiction. By keeping a few streaky colored strips in one painting or by unexpectedly interrupting the rhythmic patterns in another, Conrads intentionally undermines the idea of the series. The artist also incorporates decorative disintegration into the structure of his new works, which in the end produces a well-executed but dirty remake of neo-geo.

In this exhibition, six small-format pieces each titled We Love Painting (all works 2009) are based on a simple scheme: Diagonal fields are divided vertically into six areas of equal size, filling the entire painting with a swarm of ascending parallelograms. In these works, Conrads develops various interpretations of this basic scheme while avoiding seriality and moving closer and closer to dissolution. His use of color is intuitive: He employs odd combinations of red, purple, yellow, beige, and green, in paint that has been modified to look milky but is dried to a matte finish. These bright shades contrast with his dark, muddy surfaces, although even the dimmest parts shimmer brightly and organically. With these contrasts between lightness and darkness, his new paintings also offer a shift from flatness to depth, bringing to mind the works of Vasarely and Escher. Two pieces in particular––Leaving Home and The Big Raushole––are complex, compressed visual mazes in which one can easily get lost.

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.