Milan

Caro Niederer

Le Case D'Arte

Caro Niederer made good use of the limitations inherent in exhibiting in a single room by creating a microcosm of her work since the mid-’90s, from the series “Brown Paintings,” 1997–2003, “Interiors,” 1984–2003, “Wall Carpets,” 1993, and “Shelves,” 2001–2003. Though tightly hung and confronting the viewer with an initially surprising mix of media and styles, the various works gradually revealed themselves as parts of a fluid, self-referential artistic practice. The “Brown Paintings”—like Kinder auf Schwanschaukel (Children on a Rocking Swan), 1999, a small work depicting the artist’s son—are based directly on holiday snaps, family portraits, and events from the artist’s private life. Some, like Wesendock Villa, 2002, and Strand mit Menschen (Beach with People), 2001, recall the intimism of artists such as Gabriele Münter and Gwen John but are entirely contemporary in their simultaneous intensification and abstraction of the original image.

In the “Interiors,” Niederer systematically photographs each work she has sold in its new surroundings, whether private, corporate, or institutional. She thereby pulls away from the traditional self-containment of the work of art, making it vulnerable to its own contextual “biography.” As in the example here, Interieur-Rieterpark, 2002, depicing a “Brown Painting” hung in an office corridor, the “Interiors” show the effect of her work on its environment as much as the way her art functions in a given context. Consciously connecting it to the other painting and architectural fittings in the corridor, arousing our curiosity concerning the individuals who might share its space, she is the artist turned art detective, tracking her work and the details of its new existence. The practice of photographing the paintings emphasizes Niederer’s distance from them once they have left her studio but at the same time draws them back into her private creative realm. However, as a kind of visual tautology, the process also pushes the paintings further into public view. Through this subtle game of mirrors—a practice based on stand-ins for the originals—the artist opens up the original works to other viewers beyond the collectors who bought them. At the same time, she emphasizes the autonomy of the artwork—its independence from the artist as well as the changes it undergoes in different surroundings.

With Memoria e valore (Memory and Value), 2003, a turquoise shelving unit containing sweaters embroidered with the titles of the artist’s past exhibitions, Niederer fuses the personal and domestic with the professional. The other textile work in the exhibition, the carpet piece Die Teestunde (Teatime), 1993, contains an even denser web of references that affect our reading of it. Knotted in China from a painting that Niederer based on a Japanese drawing, the image has been transformed both by the change of scale and materials and by being interpreted through another tradition. Not only do the features of the two women shown in the image take on an Asian cast, but the image’s color has been subtly transformed as well. In playing on the distinctions between fine art and craft, familiar and exotic motifs, Niederer questions how cultural value is determined and whether the shifting preconditions for art’s reception render this process (i.e., the determination of cultural value) impossible. By clarifying the connections among Niederer’s various ongoing series, this exhibition succeeded in implicating the viewer in the artist’s reflections on the constant shifts between practices and their public legitimation.

Felicity Lunn