Basel

Mario Sala

Galerie Erika and Otto Friedrich

In Mario Sala’s images, the window, painting’s old paradigm, opens onto doors, which close off passages to illusionary space at the same time as they evoke it. The viewer stands, repeatedly, at a threshold. We find ourselves, for example, on the outside in a painting like Draussen (Outside; all works 2003); facing a western façade by night in Westfassade bei Nacht; or at the back entrance in Hintereingang.

Sala’s imaginary architecture composes a frame for branching narratives not unlike Mark Manders’s long-term project “Self-portrait as a Building,” 1986–. But Sala, unlike Manders, is not sketching a self-portrait; rather, these are public spaces, fundamental forms of orientation in space, which, with the most intensely condensed elements of passageways and alleys, are always narrated differently. As if one were a night watchman moving through a recently vacated building, opening doors and then closing them behind oneself again, in these images small universes reveal themselves for a few seconds and can be grasped only momentarily and in fragments. With a kind of hyperreal compression, Sala integrates the most minute details—the ornamental, the insignificant, the almost imperceptible, even aromas insofar as they can be captured in unusually bright color constellations.

Sala’s painted image-forms, all on bent aluminum sheets, are highly concentrated moments of awakening in the actual, pools in the perpetual stream of consciousness. Digital prints scanned from the artist’s archive offer the point of departure for swift, very free painting rich in ornament. Mixtures of glue, watercolor, and oil paint, often applied in thick layers, augment the sensuous presence of the panel until it forms a relief. The consciously chosen elements of collage—photographs or paper with wallpaper-like patterns—are carried through by the painting, intensified and disintegrated, sometimes almost destroyed, only in order to uncover spaces in yet another way. Construction and deconstruction do not stand in opposition to one another; they condition each other reciprocally. Publicly available image sources are sampled in a very personal order. Their reproducibility is not suspended by the superimposition of painting, only circumscribed.

Where floor meets wall, where wall meets ceiling, the third dimension makes itself visible and is immediately put into question again by the repeated patterns of the painting. Here, as in another show this year, at the Galerie Arts Futura in Zurich, Sala’s images ultimately combined to form a comprehensive staging of architectonic spaces in which even the line between ceiling and wall could be accentuated by a small, sculptural work. Whether in his installations or on the surfaces of his image-forms, the spaces in Sala’s works are no longer the anonymous, purely atmospheric lounges he painted in the ’90s. Now a very personal architecture unfolds between interior and exterior space. He titled a series of design sketches, shown at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, in 2001, “Schwimmkanäle für Innenräume” (Swimming Channels for Interior Spaces), 1998–2001. The complex perspectival constructs are meant to be flooded, so that they can be traversed, swimming, without touching the floor but also exactly at eye level. Chilling out in space has been followed by a movement through shifting worlds.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Diana Reese.