Jessica Stockholder

Galerie Metropol

The initial dilemma one must confront when viewing Jessica Stockholder’s work is whether to call it sculpture or painting. This problem seems fairly old-fashioned, especially after the postwar avant-garde tried its very best to dissolve such genre limitations. Perhaps it is just this challenge that gave Stockholder’s installation—this concept seems the most appropriate for the moment—its unsettling character. It recalls those art works that were instrumental in redefining painting and sculpture, image and object. In the end, one must consider whether this work is rehashing an old art-historical question.

Stockholder’s installation, SpICE BOXed Project(ion), 1992, communicated its affiliation to the image-world of illusion and to the material world of sculpture. Thus, the viewer’s position in relation to this overly colorful work was important as was the question of which color constellation was in his field of vision. The closest objects presented themselves as autonomous, like the wall of bricks and suitcases and the sheep’s wool that hung from the ceiling. But the sheer abundance of objects and the color of individual objects forced one to place them in a context. This referential system went beyond the objects to painted portions of the wall.

The strong green and blue painted on the wall in the corner of the space—playing on the “spice/ice” pun of the title and splitting the room into warm and cold halves—continued on a board that leaned against the wall. It then took on a linear quality in the middle of the room and was played on again in the colors of a cable. The red of the wall was reflected in a painted portion of the wall as well, accompanied by applied corners of red sandpaper which corresponded formally to the bricks and to the color of the sheep’s wool.

Through this color system Stockholder created a single, large, three-dimensional painting in which composition is subordinate to the heterogeneity of the found materials. The predominance of painting is not only an esthetic choice, it has to do with content. In Stockholder’s subtle dialectic of body and skin, reality (tangible, everyday objects) and fiction (color), the abstraction of the visual wins over the material, the fantastic over the ugliness of reality. In her associative, additive installation, she sets a measuring of powers in place. Not only does the bright freshness of her colors allow her to call her work “optimistic and positive,” the tendency toward harmony consciously produces contradictions only to reconcile them formally.

Stockholder’s attempts to transcend the boundaries of painting recall Robert Rauschenberg’s formal and esthetic intentions. Her lack of social and cultural references as well as the decorative qualities of her work tend to produce criticism that focuses on the esthetic aspects of her pieces, which seems oddly uncontemporary. Finally, the viewer is left wondering whether esthetics can lay claim to truth and knowledge.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.