Guido Nussbaum

Galerie Stampa

The works of Guido Nussbaum are characterized chiefly by a wrong-headed posing of problems that is usually solved with visual elegance. However, this somewhat exaggerated statement does not quite cover the matter. The wrongheadedness, rather than serving the idea of originality as an end in itself, arises from a highly self-conscious treatment of the subject matter. Thus, to a certain extent, Die Nasentafel (Nose tablet, 1988), a small oil painting on a tablet, is a consistent extension of the theme of the sensory organs—a subject often treated by this artist. In the upper half of the piece we see an oblong ornamental frieze of alternately right side-up and upside-down noses; through a precise chiaroscuro effect, the upper nostrils suddenly seem like eyes belonging to the down pointing noses. On closer inspection, the initially very alienating picture of a row of fragmented body parts turns out to be a quite conceptual thematization of perceptual mechanisms, a pictorial inquiry into the functions and modi operandi of painting. However, in a manner typical of Nussbaum, the conceptual inquiry takes place on the level of the materialistic substructure—a level that gives a very earthly reality to cognition. Despite their painterly finesse, which is always very pronounced, these works appeal less to the eye than to the brain.

Au bout du sens (At the limit of sense, 1988) carries this principle to an extreme. It gives the repeated “nose frieze” what looks like an equally figurative surrounding field, which cannot be read objectively. These picture fields above and below the “nose frieze” vaguely recall organic forms, yet the pictorial structure cannot be attached to any reality. The fields even reject any reconstructible plasticity. Indeed, if one tries to pin the entire picture down to its illusionistic qualities, it always refers to its fictive status of construction.

Nussbaum’s strategy of pictorial analysis is perhaps most obvious in Heimwelt (Home world, 1988). This video installation can be interpreted as a sort of summing up of his earlier occupation with TV. Five video cameras, each linked to a TV set, surround a classroom globe at close range; they transmit their images to five respective screens. The five TV sets form a seemingly unordered heap of oblongs and verticals, although the images on their surfaces form a kind of imaginary sphere, thereby reflecting the form of the globe. The transmitted or telecommunicated image of the world reveals itself here in all its fragmentariness. Gaps caused by the construction force us to complete the shown world and to reconstruct it mentally. The familiar world-image of the globe is enlarged and seemingly objectified; at the same time, it appears remote and dematerialized. Like many of Nussbaum’s works, Heimwelt creates a sort of closed system that makes thoughts go round in a circle, faster and faster, reaching top speeds. Yet by rooting his motifs in everyday experience, Nussbaum prevents the work from becoming a hermetic chimera.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.