Berlin

Kitty Kraus

Galerie Neu | Mehringdamm

Kitty Kraus’s show should have come with a warning sign, although it is still not clear what posed the greater danger, the work to the visitor or the visitor to the work. Signs of Minimalism, mixed with Constructivism, were there—severe geometrical constructions (made with glass) and black squarish forms (made with tar, ink, and cloth)—yet these elements were at once threatening and fragile, like magnified versions of the delicate instruments used for open-heart surgery.

The most conspicuous works—all Untitled, 2006—consisted of pairs of transparent glass panes that had been cut in angular shapes, joined at one section of their perimeter, and then placed at sometimes extreme angles to the wall and the floor. In these unlikely positions, the panes stuck to each other in mutual support while creating transparent barriers, which were difficult to see and thus easy to knock accidentally. One set took the form of a mini table and slide, jutting out of the wall and then bending to touch the floor; the two panes of glass met at an improbable 135-degree angle. Instead of deploying copper foil or superglue to fix the edges firmly, the artist opted for an extremely thin strip of double-edged tape (normally used for hanging paper posters on wall). While the structures could easily have broken or been broken, their open edges—left unpolished—remained sharp enough to cut human skin. The potential for mutual injury in this show makes it surprising that both the works and the visitors survived the opening intact.

Two other works did not endure: They were condemned to a slow deterioration. Kraus took a fluorescent tube and a lightbulb, froze each inside a large ice cube made with black ink and water, and then plugged in the lights to create glowing dark blocks. The fluorescent tube, poised on a high shelf near a corner window, liquefied its cold, inky prison, which dripped in neat lines down the wall. The lightbulb, which was lying on the floor, exploded less than an hour after being plugged in; the melting ink gradually grew into a large puddle, leaving a strange stain resembling geological formations across the gallery floor—formations that seemed to begin with the winding black line of the lightbulb’s long electrical cord. Looking down at the stain, the viewer seemed be taking a satellite’s perspective on the aftermath of an earthly catastrophe: an oozing oil slick or an erupted volcano. Berlin’s stifling heat wave, which quickened the demise of both ice cubes, only added to the apocalyptic atmosphere.

Apart from the black ink, Kraus used black tar to affix two panes of glass flat against a wall. While serving as glue, the tar created an unlikely tain, or reflective backing, which startled visitors with their own murky doubles. The other black element came from a man’s business suit: the artist cut two rectangular shapes, leaving the seam in the middle, and then suspended the pieces from the wall, letting the material slide limply across the floor. Kraus’s interventions may be simple, but what is missing is an industrial edge. By sticking to low-tech materials and methods, Kraus gets the maximum effect from the Minimalist gesture. The bare ingredients of her works—glass, tar, ink, cloth—show their full potential to depict and to unleash production and destruction. Consider the possibilities at your own risk.

Jennifer Allen