Hugo Suter

The pièce de résistance of this concentrated survey of Hugo Suter’s work is, no doubt, Gläserner Bilderzaun (Paravent) (Glass picture fence [screen]), begun in 1978. This classic work in progress has already expanded into 49 sections (each 69 by 39 inches). The current show offers the last 36 sections in the form of two 18-part “picture fences,” set up as parallel, mirrorlike zigzags. Each individual section consists of a wooden-frame construction and is connected by hinges to the section next to it. The resulting assemblage is somewhat reminiscent of a row of windows. The metaphor of the window promises transparency; at the same time, it leads the viewer to a calculated glimpse of the other side. The complexity of the construction matches that of the conception. On the one hand, we can indulge in sheer esthetic delight: the craftsmanship apparent in the woodwork and the brilliant treatment of glass, the dominant surface material, in the form of etchings, reflections, and paintings. Yet upon taking a second look, we realize that the entire installation is a conceptual picture full of doubts about the truth of pictures as such.

The overriding theme of Suter’s art is the uncertainty of the concrete visual moment, the vagueness at the instant of visual perception. Suter aims at the ungraspable point when looking and reality overlap completely. His goal is both immaterial and concrete; the discovery of the moment becomes the object of a kind of archaeology, which tries to lay bare the immediacy of seeing under the countless strata of looking. Suter examines the transience of visual phenomena chiefly through the motif of the lake. The changing play of light and waves on a watery surface offers an ideal model for this type of perceptual research. Suter dissolves the motif into a constant succession of images.

Such experiences are eventually transformed into Gläserner Bilderzaun (Paravent). The construction of the piece turns the spectator into a stroller: as he walks, the picture he has just seen becomes an uncertain memory, calling him back to check it again. The further one moves along these “picture fences,” the more complex the stratifications of related pictures become. Gradually, one feels more and more compelled to take the backs of the pictures into consideration. After all, within the installation, those backs are also pictures; and not only do they depict the logical back of the front object, but many of them are virtually afterimages—which become original images once we have changed sides. Suter’s art leads to speculative depths, only in order to approach the surface of things, their visibility.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.