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Marlow Moss

Haus Konstruktiv
Selnaustrasse 25
February 9–May 7

View of “Marlow Moss,” 2017.

Twentieth-century clichés concerning women artists stubbornly persist to this day: Women artists are primarily motherly protectors (of the figurative), as in the case of Paula Modersohn-Becker or Frida Kahlo, or diligent collectors (diving into the depths of the existential self), as with Hanne Darboven or Tracey Emin. Given these preconceived notions, it is unsurprising that British artist Marlow Moss, along with her subtle interpretations of the Neoplasticism of Piet Mondrian and his cohorts, has to be rendered palatable here with the label “forgotten outsider.” Nor is it astonishing that her life as a gay and gender-bending artist—she lived with a woman and gave herself, in the image of a dandified gentleman jockey, a man’s name—is at times presented by others as a circumstance of her desire to enter the male-dominated domain of Concrete art, seeing as Moss herself played with the public’s perceptions of her.

Early on, she shed her epigonic status with respect to her role model, Mondrian, who was almost twenty years her senior. Her compositions built on primary colors and black-and-white grid patterns stand for themselves in this fantastically curated exhibition. Dynamizing the image space, a pair of black parallel lines running neck and neck appear in two versions of the mature work Untitled (White, Black, Blue and Yellow), 1954. There are also sketches spelled out with mathematical precision, studies for larger pieces, and works such as Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue and White, 1956–57, from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which—with its shimmering color modules—makes the artist an exhilarating discovery.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Michael Krebber

Kunsthalle Bern
Helvetiaplatz 1
February 18–April 30

View of “Michael Krebber,” 2017.

Over the course of his three-decade career, Michael Krebber has successfully adopted postures of refusal that render him an almost Bartleby-esque figure at times. Nonetheless, his current midcareer retrospective in Bern dispenses with these strategies and allows viewers a comprehensive overview of his work.

Even though several installations are on display in this show, titled “The Living Wedge,” Krebber insists upon the painting component of his practice and succeeds in bringing attention to his canvases. The logic of seriality, which, more than anything else, characterizes Krebber’s method in recent years, rears its head very sporadically: Only “Flaggs (Against Nature),” 2003, and the opal-green images from MK/M 2014/15, 2014, are represented in any sort of sequential glory. Meanwhile, works from his canonical blog entries from 2011 are completely absent, as is the untitled series referring to his programmatic lecture “Puberty in Painting” from 2007—perhaps because the sociological questions they raise overshadow a set of distilled, painterly concerns meant to be the show’s focus.

Nonetheless, even Krebber the painter, as this exhibition would present him, ends up positioning himself within a multidimensional art system, seeming to pay homage to Sigmar Polke’s concept of the image and to internalize some version of Martin Kippenberger’s humorous variability of style. And yet the presence of his predecessors in his own work seems to embarrass him; his painterly gestures appear to be ashamed, furtive allusions. “Unfinished too soon” was how John Kelsey once described the laying down of half-references. Kelsey’s words nicely capture the fact that instead of images, Krebber paints an approach.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Moritz Scheper

Tilo Steireif

Robert Walser-Zentrum
Marktgasse 45
November 19–December 23

Tilo Steireif, untiled, 2012–13, watercolor and ink on paper. From the series “The Robber,” 2012–13.

In 2012, Tilo Steireif, a Swiss artist whose research-based practice has favored photography and installation, began work on a suite of aquarelle and ink cartoons inspired by German-speaking Swiss writer Robert Walser’s posthumously published novel, The Robber. The labor posed two challenges: It was Steireif’s first foray into watercolor, and The Robber—a digressive novel with a weak plot first published in German in 1972 and in English in 2000—doesn’t easily lend itself to visual exegesis in the way that the Book of Genesis did for Robert Crumb. Walser’s novel begins briskly: “Edith loves him.” Edith being a waitress and estranged paramour of the Robber, an impoverished “good-for-nothing” from the Swiss capital of Bern whose precarious lifestyle—he is more lotus-eater than criminal—chimes with the author’s own traumatic biography. Still, Steireif emerges as a mordant guide to Walser’s elliptical modernist text about a solitary walker with urbane habits.

Installed in three rows across three walls in a small room that has previously shown Walser’s idiosyncratic microscripts, Steireif’s 112 clear line cartoons (all works untitled, 2012–13) are tonally reduced. The worn-out Guston pinks and variations of “sky blue audacity,” to quote the novel, lend his visualization of petit bourgeois anxiety and listlessness an understated pathos. One panel shows the Robber, who bears a striking resemblance to a mustached Walser, examining his bleeding heart while on a walk. The cartoon is faithful to the book, gleefully so, grimly depicting what is understood as metaphorical introspection in the text. But Steireif is ultimately an empathetic interpreter of the writer’s world of homburgs, cigars, carousel rides, strange monuments, and low-key despair.

Sean O’Toole