Adrian Schiess

Though Adrian Schiess’ art appears impeccably clear and precise, it eludes classification as either painting or sculpture. One cannot even say for sure whether this exhibition is an installation in the usual sense of the term, or simply a group of individual paintings. The title Flache Arbeiten (Flat works, 1989) seems to indicate a collection of individual pictures; yet the arrangement of the panels in space has more to do with the overall conception that motivates the installation than with “composition” in any normative sense. What we see in the vast, brightly illuminated room is a regular and orderly display of rectangular, enamel-painted plywood sheets half the size of their normal industrial form. Arranged in seven rows of ten paintings each, the panels rest just above the floor, on two tetragonal pieces of unfinished wood. The result is a field accentuated by the regular gaps between the plywood rows; because two paintings are “missing” from the last row, the field suggests an open structure that might repeat itself indefinitely. The initial impression is of industrial anonymity, but also of a self-evident beauty.

It becomes more and more obvious that this installation is not so much a Minimalist floor sculpture as a presentation of painted plywood sheets. The viewer’s insight changes the perspective, transforming the arrangement into a view of a plane of color, or rather, a horizontal surface made up of individual colored elements. A cautious association suggests itself: the image of a gigantic color chart. The seemingly random distribution of hues counters the systematic regularity of the display. This variable mood is further heightened by the reflection of natural light. Upon closer viewing of the individual paintings, however, the mood factor is liquidated. The monochrome enamel surfaces reinforce the anonymity of the entire installation. Still, this is a presentation of meticulous paintings, in broken tones of beige, brown, and lilac, with an occasional radiant yellow, red, pink, or white. Yet it’s not the individual painting that dominates, but color itself—albeit with great restraint. Here the horizontal form of presentation becomes significant, for if these paintings were hung on a wall, they would inevitably turn into pictures with all their conventional limitations. Yet this is precisely what Schiess tries to avoid. The artist utilizes horizontality as a metaphor for unrestricted freedom, to suggest a theoretically unlimited plane, in which color, consistent with its nature, can flow out and melt away. In this sea of color, each painting becomes an element in the overriding organization, while simultaneously retaining its individuality. In these terms, and contrary to the installation’s demure conceptual appearance, Schiess presents us with an art full of irrational yearnings.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.