Critics’ Picks

Torsten Slama, Walt-Whitman-Gedenk-Raffinerie (Walt Whitman Memorial Refinery), 2005, ink on illustration board, 28 x 40".


Torsten Slama

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
5216 Montrose Boulevard
May 15–August 2

In his debut solo exhibition in the United States, the Berlin-based artist Torsten Slama introduces us to his unnerving postapocalyptic world. Part science fiction, part prophecy, his desolate landscape paintings and drawings depict a sinister, mechanized environment where technology and science rule.

For his accomplished paintings, Slama utilizes oil, acrylic, and airbrush to create flat surfaces that erase the hand of their creator, a style particularly appropriate for the works here, which are themselves often devoid of humans. His barren views are populated by industrial buildings, yet no activity is evident; no steam rises from the stacks of the Kryogenisches Institut “Wilhelm Reich” (Cryogenic Institute “Wilhelm Reich”), 2005, and no trains travel along the tracks in HYDRA-Hydrierwerke mit aufsteigender Überwachungsteinheit (HYDRA-Hydrogenation Plant with Ascending Surveillance Unit), 2008. It’s as if the isolated structures, while well preserved, are relics of a civilization now extinct. Strange UFOs hovering above a few of the buildings suggest that, if there were inhabitants, they might not be human.

The exhibition also includes skillfully rendered pencil drawings on paper. While some follow in the same narrative vein as the paintings, another series portrays a bearded elderly gentleman whose well-groomed appearance and friendly face contradict the precarious and often confrontational situations he encounters. One work depicts him in a business suit apparently startling another man dressed only in his undershorts; in another, the protagonist is naked, clasping a pipe in one hand and a briefcase in the other. In most cases, he stands facing the viewer, as if issuing a challenge to decipher the ominous sexual innuendos that riddle the work. Psychological underpinnings and narrative suggestions connect the two seemingly disparate bodies of work into a strong presentation by this promising artist.