Düsseldorf

Loren Calaway

This show consisted of objects that appear to be fine pieces of furniture, too small for a child’s room and too large for a dollhouse, and cupboardlike constructions full of drawers with nothing in them. Or perhaps more like secretaries with secret compartments? One hesitates to open the many drawers; if one does so, though, one discovers that they are empty, but lined with the green felt typically found on bridge and billiard tables. Some of the compartments are already open, and are similarly lined with green felt; they have been fitted with bars of iron. The wood is stained dark brown, the hinges are of brass. The compartments stand on slim legs of the same wood (some of which is unplaned and unfinished); these vertical supports are strengthened by diagonal struts. More such art furniture, built to the most exacting specifications by the artist, is mounted on the wall.

One’s first impression of utility (which, after all, is an inherent characteristic of furniture) is constantly disturbed. The closed drawers are empty; the “treasure” is in those that are open. In addition, some drawers seem to come from nowhere, or at least not from the piece of furniture on which they have been placed. In these compartments, too, the iron “treasure” is exposed. Some small drawings on brass recall file cabinets or card files; such objects usually indicate their own content, but these drawings remain obscure. They tempt the viewer to place their strikingly geometric pictorial quality in relation to the construction of the objects, but they do not reveal their secret, and ultimately they suggest the alphabets or hieroglyphics of long-vanished civilizations, or architectural drawings for mysterious sites.

It is evident that the prevailing tendency on the recent art scene is toward a coded, personal pictorial language. Rarely, however, is the personal inner world presented in a form that is so provocative. The contradiction between a design that is rational in appearance and executed in solid bourgeois material on the one hand and, on the other, permanently secret, is unabating. The pieces attract, awaken curiosity, and are constantly unyielding. One suspects the personal and finds emptiness and concealment. Repeatedly, one thinks of the recurring, virulent longing of sculptors to participate in the everyday world through utilitarian objects; the impulse provided by the Bauhaus toward overcoming the cleavage between the purposelessness of art and the shaping of the everyday environment is recalled—but then soon blurred, because even the size of these works excludes utility and because nothing suggests that these might be models for larger pieces. Precisely in its smallness, Calaway’s purposeless art furniture is self-sufficient, as a vessel of the mysterious self. And precisely because, in its “inadequate” size and its antithesis between attraction and repulsion, it cannot be further deciphered except as an indication of an existing but absent self, it refers its viewers back to themselves.

There is a second small group of works. Transparent squares made of delicately colored fabric are stretched in front of small structures made of unplaned wood. These are less provocative than the furniture, since from the outset they suggest no utilitarian function. Despite their cool composition, they are also more lyrical. In their transparency and their interplay between light and color, they call to mind paintings—and also full-blown sails, distance, the adventure of freedom. That makes them beautiful, in an unpretentious manner.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.