WINTERTHUR, SWITZERLAND

Nic Hess

KUNSTMUSEUM WINTERTHUR

Occupying a single large blacked-out room, Nic Hess’s expansive wall painting coalesced into its own galaxy. Or at least it seemed that way when one was drawn directly to the stars—gleaming a bit too brightly in the distance by dint of ultraviolet light—that dotted the far-left wall of the firmament. But this galaxy did not remain stable for long. The stars and streaks of light began to migrate off the large starry banner painted on the neighboring corner of the room. It was as if they were wandering across the side wall, only to become suddenly knotted up in the intertwining lines of an expressway interchange. Meanwhile, at the other end of the room, Pinocchio’s nose was glowing luridly in the vast darkness, heading toward the torso of a geisha rendered not quite in the manner of Hokusai. On the right, a faint red glow, like an artificial sunset, began to spread across the walls. This light was cast by an illuminated Plexiglas pedestal, which stood alone in the room as a stage or place to sit. High up on the long wall in back, the divine hand from a Michelangelesque sketch reached for the stars.

As with his earlierworks, which were made entirely of adhesive film and tape, Hess let this wall painting be determined by time. It intensively engaged the given architecture without altering it. Hess’s tape strips here were used (for the first time) solely for delineating borders and surfaces that were otherwise painted. The nocturnal space contained echoes of Zurich’s club atmosphere of the ’90s, in its decor of art references, pictograms, and designer labels. The artist’s recent experience at P.S. I in New York helped to reinforce this transcultural mix of messages. At the same time, the imagery has become somewhat more condensed. Hess leaves the individual “style,” like the ones created from different brand labels in youth cultures, to the observers in his empty expanses of intergalactic space. By launching well-known images at each other as if the mace of art were a kind of semantic particle accelerator, he creates a void of meaning from which new constellations, even little stories, flare up unexpectedly and briefly.

Back outside on the street, one still harbored the impression of having been in the planetarium of some museum of science, until somewhere on the way to the train station that flower-shaped red label from the glowing pedestal popped back into one’s head: the logo of Manor, the clothing line that voted Hess this year’s winner of its arts prize and which thus was responsible for this very exhibition—called, in turn, “To the Manor Born.” The recycling of signifiers alternates between the everyday and art. Back in the realm of the familiar, one found oneself grown rather stranger.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.