Pascal Danz

“Flat,” the title of Pascal Danz’s recent exhibition, refers to the subject matter of most of the works on show—interior views of modernist apartments—while highlighting the idea of how painting can translate a three-dimensional structure or environment into a two-dimensional surface. From the gallery’s glass frontage one was immediately presented with two large-format works demonstrating the artist’s appropriation of the language of architecture and his transformation of both its formal qualities and cultural values into rich emotional metaphors. Both interior Bailey house (Pierre König), 2003, and interior (Mies van der Rohe), 2003, show iconic buildings that have always been treated as works of art themselves, illustrated without paintings, sculptures, or even occupants. The status of these buildings as immediately recognizable icons of their time is further reinforced by Danz’s selection of source images: He takes them from the Internet (since he prefers investigating a widely available and filtered version of the original) or from found photo albums but not from a personal encounter with the architecture itself. Where Danz inserts signs of human presence—such as rubber plants or a “tasteless” ornament—it creates a tension with what has come to be regarded as the purity of international modernism.

The opaque skin of paint shifts functions as one approaches it—from depicting a familiar environment to presenting abstract intimations of space. Interior Bailey house (Pierre König), and Johnson glass house, 2003, hung in the enclosed second half of the gallery as a surprise finale to the exhibition, ignore both correct proportions and actual colors, emphasizing the reflective surfaces, transparent materials, and dramatic vistas of the original architecture. Space is manipulated slightly differently in reflection (Tugendhat house), 2004, where the reduced, almost transparent palette draws out relationships between horizontal and vertical planes.

In the large paintings in the front of the gallery, the prominent windows amplified the sense of space beyond the picture plane, drawing the viewer’s gaze to flat, 2004, a smaller work at the back of the gallery. Opening out onto monochrome emptiness beyond two trees and the low scrubland horizon, flat made an uncanny duo with LA apartments, 2004. Painted in the muddy, offbeat colors that characterize Danz’s most recent work, it contrasts the pale glow of a row of houses with a dense indigo blue to turn the picture’s incidentals—trees, sky, road—into a silhouette recalling the emotional treatment of architecture in German Expressionist film.

The principal theme of the exhibition was cleverly counterpointed by two smaller paintings that use the human figure to explore the relationship between knowledge and perception. Displayed with interior Bailey house (Pierre König) and interior (Mies van der Rohe) at the front of the gallery, Untitled (Choir), 2004, emphasized even more dramatically the artist’s freedom to create nonfunctional and purely conceptual spaces, in contrast with those constructed by architects. The blocked-out background and featureless faces produce a condensed, almost flat image that is nonetheless recognizable as four people with balloons floating above them. This shifting between positive and negative space is intensified in the other figurative work, Untitled (flat space), 2004. The fluid use of paint to depict a mass of people at a rally suspends the image between formation and dissolution, returning it to the virtual substance of its Internet source.

Felicity Lunn