Basel

Willi Kopf

Galerie Buchmann

For the past six years Willi Kopf has been building geometric cubes and rectangular forms out of untreated, standard-size sheets of chipboard. Kopf systematically saws them up and glues them together into rectangular shapes of different sizes that look as if they were meant as a playhouse for children. In fact, he is producing modulelike construction units for a process of assemblage in which calculation and chance play equal roles. These rectangular boxes, which he calls “brick elements,” are glued together and placed inside one another until at last they produce the finished sculpture, without the exact proportions and dimensions having been predetermined. Kopf juxtaposes his high degree of craftsmanship and a free-associative combination of simple building units. In the end, the invisible core of his sculptures consists of a hidden, labyrinthine construction of interior walls and box-within-box interior spaces. Structurally, this lends a stability to these units made of lightweight, low-grade material.

Last year Kopf constructed tall rectangular sculptures, the outer simplicity and hermetic character of which suggest, among other things, visionary architecture. This is especially true of Kastanien Turm (Chestnut tower, 1990), which is horizontally subdivided like the floors of a skyscraper; still, its floor plan remains mysterious. A further element is the variation in hue from sculpture to sculpture, introduced not by the artist’s intervention but by the mixture of pigments with the wood shavings in the manufacturing process. One type of chipboard is water repellant, another harder and stronger than the others. During a stay in France last year, Kopf came across varieties of chipboard tinted with pigments that look especially loud, cheap, and synthetic. Viewed from far away, and in combination with the natural color of the wood, these pigments develop surprisingly warm and voluminous color values. A glaring green or yellow suddenly turns a pleasant pistachio green or ochre; a shrill lilac appears as a soft pink tone. Also, due to the manufacturing process, the colors on the cut edges are never identical to those on the surface of the boards. Kopf has made use of this peculiarity for a tonal, geometrical mode of construction defined by colored lines and monochromatic planes as well as by an interplay of symmetry and asymmetry. His work has been compared repeatedly with Piet Mondrian’s careful visual constructions, but this comparison might be too literal, for although Kopf’s sculptures derive from a kind of synthesis of planar, three-dimensional and (concealed) architectonic elements, what he values about this low-grade material with its gaudy colors is its (naturally) built-in camouflage effect. The fact that he enjoys the industrial origins and ambivalent esthetics of the chipboard testifies to his justifiable skepticism toward the utopian dimension of art. An esthetically, socially, and ethically innocent context such as that envisioned by Mondrian is not what Kopf has in mind.

Anne Krauter

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.