St. Gallen

Andreas Gehr


Here in the refectory of the former cloister of Saint Catherine, which has been transformed into an exhibition space, the Toronto-based Swiss artist Andreas Gehr presented a few examples of his sculptures from the past two years. The show consisted of six works, most of them made almost entirely of glass. Although in certain earlier pieces by Gehr glass constituted an important element, now it has a more profound, structural significance, involving not only the specific quality of the material and its expressive dimension, but also the very concept of the sculptural process. Here, sculpture, as the epitome of three-dimensional material solidity, as a construction that clutches and creates space, is transformed into a fragile form that eludes unambiguous perception. However, Gehr’s goal is not to create amorphous forms. On the contrary, these sculptures are based on clearly defined, logically derived elements that clarify the structure of each work, even if the eye can barely discern them, as they are—paradoxically—“hidden” by the transparency of the glass. In five of the works, the fundamental element or building block is a square “column”—an elongated cube—made of thin sheets of glass about 40 inches long, with square ends and one side usually left open. The precise geometric configuration of this element literally represents the idea of volume (i.e., three intersecting planes in space), constituting a body and a vessel at once.

Perhaps the best example of this is the floor work from 1987–88 that is the virtual centerpiece of the exhibition. Here, Gehr has taken eight of these glass “columns” and arranged them horizontally on the floor to form a large square; laid eight more on top of those to make low, two-tiered walls; and then added four more to make a fifth wall exactly in between two parallel walls of the square. The entire piece was laid out on a neutral gray steel plate (which was necessary here only because of the distracting carpet). At first glance, the sculpture appeared to follow an absolutely consistent logical structure, but its construction quickly revealed more complex dimensions. On two sides, the columns are stacked congruent with each other in only half of the wall; in the other half, the two columns are actually staggered to leave a gap precisely the size of the columns’ square ends in the middle of one tier of the wall. Gehr has also added other, even subtler inconsistencies: two of the sides and the wall in between them are longer than the other two sides by about 6 inches (the width of the square gaps), so that the overall form is not really a square; and one upper-tier column, the end of which covers the end of its perpendicular lower-tier neighbor, is 6 inches longer than any of the others. None of this is readily apparent, even though the work’s “skeleton” is clearly visible. Moreover, the panes of glass also act as mirrors; with varying intensity, they refract the structure of the work, distorting the clear shape of the geometric construction and leaving it open to speculation. The spatial body of the sculpture thus develops a tendency to dissolve its defined volume, so that the open and the closed sides can scarcely be distinguished by the eye. The sculptural event “flows” into the surrounding space, so to speak, with the result that it seems to hover there like a three-dimensional contour drawing.

In some of the other pieces, he accentuates this fluctuation between solidity and dissolution by adding other, visually defined materials, such as galvanized steel, glass wool, and colored pigment, which function as parameters of palpable materiality. One of these works—a new, larger version of a work from 1986—was displayed in an interior courtyard of the cloister. It consists of an 8-foot-high steel I-beam that supports a T-form made of two 4-foot-long glass columns. Here, the confrontation of the diverse materialities is carried to an extreme: the epitome of solidity, the I-beam, becomes a kind of pedestal for a precisely formulated, but almost immaterial glass sculpture. By juxtaposing or weighting the material in this manner, Gehr makes another aspect of his work tangible: the existential content, which fills his formally brilliant pieces with a nervous explosiveness. The specific traits of the materials can, to a certain extent, be read as metaphors of mental energies. That is, working with glass can be seen as living with the element of failure that is inherent in every construction. The brilliance of artistic perfection contains the proverbial pile of shards as its disillusioning core.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.