Critics’ Picks

  • Benjamin Butler, Yellow (Landscape), 2018, oil on linen, 19 1/2 x 23 1/2".

    Benjamin Butler

    Galerie Martin Janda
    Eschenbachgasse 11
    April 25 - June 2

    Through his idiosyncratic mode of picture making, Benjamin Butler addresses the tension between pictorial beauty and conceptualism that has long overstayed its welcome in art discourse. He has done so by almost exclusively painting tree motifs for the past fifteen years. Solitary trees, trees in groups, trees in a rudimentary landscape: One could say that Butler has been painting the same view over and over, zooming in and out to explore permutations of form, composition, and color. In its seriality and almost absurd persistence, Butler’s practice is in the lineage of conceptual repetition that originated with Cézanne and includes Sol LeWitt and Hanne Darboven.

    However, his painterly language is also clearly indebted to the tradition of the picturesque, with all its lyricism, prettiness, and corniness that made the genre anathema to both modernists and historical Conceptualists. In other words, Butler’s works are an impure hybrid of opposed aesthetic and intellectual traditions, mutations that evade easy categorization. Such fertile hybridity is showcased most clearly in the series “Monochromes,” 2018. In each of these medium-size canvases painted with a single color, one sees faint traces of scenery with—naturally—prominent trees. Again, repetition is the key. The modernist trope of monochrome is juxtaposed with the most familiar of motifs and produced through the rigorous methodology of minimalism. The undeniable beauty of the artist’s individual paintings camouflages the contradiction that lurks within. Yet what ultimately emerges is a singular kind of visual resolution.

  • Haim Steinbach, Untitled (cookie jar, Jamaican head, Stormtrooper, dog chew), 2016, mixed media, 26 1/2 x 55 7/10 x 13 1/2".

    Haim Steinbach

    Galerie Hubert Winter
    Breite Gasse 17
    April 5 - June 2

    Mojave, vitamin kick, tree frog 1, garden gnome, sunflower. For eswürdesoaussehen (itwouldlooklikethis), 2018—which consists of fictive names and thirteen color swatches painted on the wall—Haim Steinbach portrays not only the hues of everyday objects but also the ideas and representations connected to them.

    This exhibition hosts plenty of actual objects, too—they’re motley and freighted with cultural significance, and Steinbach has been amassing them for a good three decades. That they exist not to sate the artist’s pack-rat passions but rather to serve the analysis of their own implications in terms of form, content, and society is intensified by the staging of the objects in the exhibition space. What do a Darth Vader cookie jar, a hand-carved wooden statue from Jamaica, a lunchbox in the form of a Stormtrooper, and a dog’s rubber bone have to do with one another? At first glance, absolutely nothing; at every further glance, a further explanation, depending on who is looking at the arrangement and the background that person brings to it.

    Untitled (cookie jar, Jamaican head, Stormtrooper, dog chew), 2016, is shown beside a decaled large-format portrait of the Lion King, a metal can in Pantone color 18-2120 neatly displayed in a vitrine, and, adhered to a wall, the logo of “Playboy of the West Indies,” from the book cover of the same title by Mustapha Matura—a few among numerous appropriations. Steinbach adopts foreign objects as his own, borrowing their meaning in order to generate new insights through recombination. In doing so, he offers no definite read, instead entrusting the process of deciphering to the observer. It is this interpretive openness in which the works’ power resides.

    Translated from German by Diana Reese.