Pál Gerber

Vaefok Gallery

Pál Gerber’s paintings of revoked “every-day” object, scenerios and texts torn from their original context, catapuled into an unarticulated gray space, where, to borrow from Gertrude Stein, “There’s no ‘there’ there”—work in the space of the psyche, requiring a constant readjustment on the part of the viewer, generating a quiet, incomprehensible shock. They seem to be at once something that is our own, and something remarkably foreign, unsettling. His work typically consists of tiles from a once-upon-a-time land and of images that recall people who have returned from vacation, their tans fading but still wearing the T-shirts they bought.

Gerber’s latest series of monochrome paintings range in “object” matter from tree trunks, to the outline of Hungary, to a simplified maquette of a room emptied of everything except two crossed carpets. All sit, or rather hover, in Gerber’s trademark gray land(mind)scapes. In A Szeretet Mindent Legyoz (Love overcomes everything, 1992), an unidentified surface, a saucer, a teacup, and a spoon float one above the other in an impossible feat of levitation. The absurdity of the suspended object, and the exhausted sentiment attached to each, on one level asks us to suspend our disbelief. Seeming initially to court some involvement with the world, the piece is actually about a loss of primary engagement and the impulse for transcendence produced by this loss. In Bescületes Helytállás (Honorable reliability, 1992), a huge wheelless toy truck “stands” suspended, immovable, unusable. It recalls Martin Heidegger’s anonymous placeholder—the best worker on the lot, the self as defined by others. It stands here inactive, in the abandoned lot of the ego, waiting for something else to take its place. It would, however, do the work a disservice to belabor this comparison: the title echoes communist lingo, but, paradoxically, the work is actually antisymbolic in that it subverts the very referents it suggests. The truck is the placeholder/goodboy as well as its disappearance. It represents getting past the I-still-can’t-quite-get-over-the-fact-that-what-Mama-told-me-ain’t-necessarily-so feeling. And, maybe finally, it is just a lumbering, awkward, incapacitated toy truck, nothing more. The absurd is never lost on Gerber.

Out loud he may insist, as Eugène Ionesco has, that “There is nothing to understand . . . there is no key . . . no miracle,” yet this sentiment seems to belie the work on the wall, work that is opaque, even dismal, but somehow survives. There may indeed be no key, no miracle, but the power of Gerber’s work attests to the fact that something or somethings have meaning, even though we may be in a state of continually misplacing them.

Diana Kingsley