Gardar Eide Einarsson

Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève

Some critics refer to Gardar Eide Einarsson’s work as “political,” while others complain that his art is not only visually insubstantial but offers too little content; more neutral voices speak of the “contradictory” nature of his work. The Norwegian artist’s first solo show in Switzerland, organized in cooperation with the Frankfurt Kunstverein and curated by Katya García-Antón, brought together a large selection of his work from 2004 to 2007. Like relics left behind after a stage production, these paintings, flags, videos, and light boxes, often arranged in series and almost exclusively black-and-white, were unpretentiously displayed, in accordance with their formats, either on the ground or leaning against walls or mounted at various heights. Einarsson’s work is predominantly text-based, with sloganlike catchphrases drawn both from literary sources and from the realms of subcultures, and compositions based on logos, graffiti, and tattoos—idioms traditionally considered foreign to art but with affinities to Minimalism and Pop art, which makes these works doubly referential. These negotiations of style no doubt produce what appears contradictory here: The originally nihilistic and subversive drama of the codes that have been appropriated, the “underground” style, is thinned out to create a smooth, cleanly polished surface.

Einarsson uses the black square as a formal citation in several of his works. The white light box, for example, with black letters that repeat the 2007 work’s title, I’m offended that you’re offended, re-creates a bumper sticker; but between these lines, the Confederate flag has been replaced by a black rectangle. Two large-format paintings, Untitled (I Stayed till the Bell), 2007, and Untitled (Garbage), 2007, make reference to Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. The first has an entirely black surface, while the second uses a diagonal division of the image to create a black-and-white triangular composition. The pictures are based on geometrical tattoo patterns favored by Russian prison inmates. The installation Jailtables, 2007—an arrangement of MDF tables and chairs such as one finds in prisons—and the large wall piece next to it, Untitled (XXL Marker), 2007, a black surface drawn on with an oversize marker, similarly refer to both correctional facilities and monochrome painting. Works like this make the reference to subcultural practices absolutely clear, but at the same time, their self-referentiality keeps the viewer at a distance from these signifiers. The four cloth banners hanging from the ceiling, with titles like American Liberty, 2007, or Black Flag (Liberty), 2006—displaying variations on an inverted crescent moon and proclaiming their own titles—could probably be called “political”; certainly the video piece These Colors Don’t Run, 2007, a loop showing an Internet image of a faded, pixilated American flag flapping in the wind, merits that designation. And yet flags, too, have long been devices for artistic self-reflection—one need only think of Jasper Johns. Many of Einarsson’s works suggest two different interpretations: nonreferential, intrinsic surfaces versus deictic references that, however, become neutralized through their artistic codification. The simplicity of Einarsson’s work and the oft-invoked black surface as a metaphor of iconic subtraction can be read as consciously chosen expressions of art’s inability to represent social realities. In other words, he uses symbolic processes to negotiate precise categories of style and form in their interplay with politics and ethics—categories belonging to art and thus also to society.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.