Douglas Wada

Galerie Borgmann • Nathusius

DOUGLAS WADA'S NEW PAINTINGS depict icons of American life—things that otherwise tend to escape notice, like subway seats, garbage cans, lockers, streetlights, air conditioners, suitcases, and loudspeakers. Wada isolates individual objects in a flat, usually monochromatically white pictorial space—except when the subject fills the entire image, as in Girlschool, 2001, which shows a row of dark blue-green lockers—so that the pictorial surface and the wall behind it can hardly be distinguished at a distance: a quotation-like play with painterly illusionism through which the images gain a nearly objectlike character, just as the objects portrayed are granted a sculptural quality through their representation.

Wada underscored this objecthood through his hanging of the paintings. He positioned Untitled (Subway Seat), 2001, at chair height; placed Untitled #1 (Trash Can), 2001, barely above the floor in the gallery; arranged the minimalistic grid of the air conditioner in Untitled #1 (A. C.), 2001, near the radiator; and hung the extremely tall Untitled (Lamp Post), 2001, just below the ceiling. Wada's suggestive, emphatically literal approach to installing the pieces put the images in dialogue with the wall and ultimately reflected back on the viewer, who, as with Minimal art, was required to continually redetermine his or her angle for viewing the works. Wada's images may be described as a successful synthesis and reflection of specific aspects of various tendencies of American art since the '60s. Depending on one's point of view, one might emphasize the serial aspect and the minimalistic sequence, as in Samsonite, 2001, an image of suitcases stacked atop one another like Minimalist units; or one might note the posterlike banality of the objects painted, suggesting a connection to Pop art (even if, in his recent pictures, Wada eschews depicting brand labels); or one might focus on the seductive modeling of surfaces and details—like the light reflected on the lockers or the smooth, faintly depressed subway seats, which shows a certain affinity to Richard Artschwager.

Wada's images owe their charm to the layering and displacement of these different references and formal languages. In contrast to the nonreferentiality for which Minimal art strove, the subjects chosen by Wada are by no means neutral. Thus the exhibition invitation shows three girls in front of a row of lockers—a coarse-grained, black-and-white image evocative of a still from an old film, in which these lockers might turn out to play a key role. Nearly every object in Wada's pictures could be a prop for such a narrative. Removed from any specific context, the images and objects are emptied of their original meaning and thus become receptacles for new ones. In Cologne, this moment of decontextualization was doubled: The objects of daily life in New York provoke different associations and projections when placed in another context. There, the artistic transformation may be at once familiar and distanced; here it achieved yet another level of alienation—and demanded a further adjustment of our viewpoint.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.