Jean-Frédéric Schnyder

Galerie Daniel Buchholz

Works by the Swiss artist Jean-Frédéric Schnyder reside in the public domain of painting. For his subjects he pilfers a grab bag of the already known; the same is true of his techniques. Everything is here. Small-format paintings show landscapes, dolls, everyday objects (for example, a sugar cube); they are either painted in an amplified, expressive way, simply sketched, or hinted at pointillistically. Each painting has its unique, intrinsic signature; and each one could even have been done by any other artist—that is, if it weren’t for its relationship to the other paintings and the linking through format and installation. Schnyder’s intention is to celebrate the paradox of simultaneously existing conditions, contradictions, and protean elements in the perception of artworks.

Schnyder’s paintings provide enigmas, but here he offered an odyssey of quiet perception through which the viewer could accompany the artist on a bizarre pictorial journey. These range from Color Field compositions to naive, childlike drawings, and even to an expressionistic flash. Various kinds of perception play off one another in this intentional intertwining of motifs and techniques. Yet this odyssey seems more random than deliberate. Schnyder obviously enjoys his conceptual journey home in this era of supposed hostility to painting.

We wonder: could Schnyder’s work be an attack on the concept of the painter instead of on painting? For the contemporary painter—or so it would seem according to Schnyder—is not the smart, stalwart, admirable hero of a specific esthetic stance; rather, he embodies the restless, perhaps never-returning artist, who surrenders to the sirenlike temptations of esthetic positions instead of defending himself against them. Still, the changes—those irritating and disturbing moments that issue from these paintings—have more to do with the viewer’s perception than with content, which remains inconsequential. In a world of utterly incompatible antitheses, tensions in the content embody, at most, the painter’s grappling with the character of the artwork as a highly stylized object of perception.

Complexity and incoherence are unspectacular elements that are widely found in recent painting. Schnyder synthesizes and synchronizes them into his own secular artistic signs. His paintings are installments in a serialized novel about worldly temptations: imprisoned in casual and chatty formalisms, roaming about in search of a new goal for painting, adopting all sorts of positions on painting, in a chaotic but somehow orderly fashion. Yet in any case, the syncretic nature of today’s painting is all too obvious: it is not a self-contained system, it is dependent on the zeitgeist. No painter can orbit around himself; no style, no technique, or motif is synonymous with the ultimate wisdom—not even if they are all assembled together.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.