Stephen Prina

On entering Stephen Prina’s recent exhibition, one was greeted by a monochromatic gray wall, on which the artist’s name and the title of the show had been applied at right angles to one another in large yellow letters. Mounted at the point where both met—as if it were part of a store’s product display—was a new CD, his first, titled (like the exhibition itself) “Push Comes to Love.” On a wall nearby hung a red monochrome painting, Push Comes to Love: Vivid Rose (all works 1999). This entry area, with its subtle resonances among gray, yellow, and red, created a minimal atmosphere characteristic of the artist’s work, which is often read as typically Conceptual, an impression that, in this case, did not suffice in conveying the underlying conceit.

The series in the next room, “Push Comes to Love: DAAD Gallery Berlin,” referred both to Prina’s show “Retrospection under Duress,” which he put on three years ago at Gisela Capitain, and to his exhibition at the DAAD Galerie in Berlin a few months later, which he presented as “Retrospection under Duress, Reprise.” (In the latter, Prina integrated elements from Marcel Broodthaers’s 1972 Musee d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles.) Each of the fifteen works in the new series features a pair of gelatin-silver prints: one photograph of the DAAD Galerie’s floor plans placed below a shot of the installation of Prina’s show there. Each piece has been covered with a coat of transparent monochromatic acrylic and one of the artist’s signature computer-cut vinyl templates. Moving from work to work, one realizes that the letters cut into the templates spell out the title of Prina’s previous exhibition at Gisela Capitain. And so the “retrospection under duress” continues.

In the last room, five photos of interior views of Prina’s Berlin show were presented along with five monochrome paintings. On closer examination of these canvases, one realized that individual details from the photos had been silk-screened onto the monochromatic backgrounds. One piece, however, intentionally disrupted the otherwise auratic perfection of the exhibition’s execution. Prina emptied the entire contents of a can of spray paint onto a monochrome painting, thereby leaving a puddle on the floor. With this radical yet almost embarrassingly simple gesture, Prina brilliantly diffuses the expectations put on him of formal infallibility. At the same time, he achieves a work in situ—but one that we can be fairly certain will appear in some form or another in later works.

As with the earlier shows, the current exhibition is about the historically and contextually determined perception of art. Here, the description of Prina’s work (with which he himself agrees) as impure Conceptual art is made patently manifest. Prina questions the basic tenets of Conceptualism—tendencies such as the dematerialization and negation of the object—not only through the brilliantly elegant execution of his works but also through seemingly destructive gestures that possess a poetic potential that is no less convincing.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella