Alice Stepanek/Steven Maslin

Johnen + Schöttle

In a series of 13 small, square pictures of trees, Alice Stepanek and Steven Maslin depict the transformation of tree branches from one season to another: without leaves, with buds, with leaves, with autumn foliage, and again without leaves. They have been painting landscapes exclusively for years now, directly from nature. Also included in this exhibition was a large, rectangular painting that showed the summer foliage of a tree, with a green shimmering surface.

We are all too familiar with landscape painting from art history—but what place might it occupy in contemporary art? Once the artist was believed to be able to experience the sublime in nature; but nature has since become something low, amorphous, and profane that should be overcome in abstraction. In much postwar painting, the sublime is sought through abstract forms and colors. In an age in which we are largely concerned with our relationship to the commodity, nature appears seldom in art, and never for its own sake. Today many wonder about our distorted relationship to the natural world, and one can be sure that modern art has contributed to this problem.

Many artists create videos and take photographs of destroyed landscapes in order to provoke their viewers into action—into recognizing that the beauty of our environment is slowly becoming nothing but a memory. Stepanek and Maslin take a different tack: they paint an unadulterated landscape in an almost realistic fashion. They hide any personal intentions or feelings in their paintings, and don’t intrude upon nature. These paintings are quiet, independent of almost all individual perception—eternal images of nature. And contemporary viewers are barely able to perceive this sublimity. Do these pictures return this ability to the viewer? Probably not, but they do awaken a longing for the sublime, a longing for that moment when something happens that stops us from further participating in senseless destruction.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V Miller.