Christiane Löhr

Galleria Salvatore + Caroline Ala

Christiane Löhr lives in touch with nature: At her residences in Cologne and in Prato, Italy, her preliminary work does not take place in the studio but on long walks in the meadows and woods, where she collects organic elements such as plant seeds, burrs, grass stalks, tree blossoms, and horsehair. She then proceeds to a planning and construction phase, where she brings together geometry and contemplation, chance and symmetry.

The thirty-two small sculptures exhibited here (along with a large installation, a light and transparent interweaving of horsehair that filled a room at the back of the gallery), despite their intrinsic ephemerality, have the stability and force of architecture. For the artist, the natural order, made more complex by intricate weavings and interlacings, is ideally connected to the history of architecture, particularly that of sacred architecture, which Löhr observes as carefully as she does the botanical world. While she is inspired by the gothic and its slender, soaring structures—challenging gravity in sculptures with a light and aerial flow that resembles ribbed vaults, as in Kleine Kuppel (Little Dome), 2008—she has also derived sturdier shapes from the forms of Hindu temples, as evidenced in the more corporeal and earthly materiality of a work such as Löwenzahnkugel (Dandelion Sphere), 2008.

The geometric and physical laws that govern the structure of these small forms are invisible yet palpable. Their materials hold together thanks to internal forces, whether in a gothic arch or in interwoven blades of grass. Löhr’s fragile world enacts a paradox—namely, that the microcosm responds to the same rules as the macrocosm in manmade structures as in nature, and that all things are bound through immaterial but tenacious forces. In Grünes Oval (Green Oval), 2008, plant stalks with small, dry, flat leaves are arranged to form a structure that looks as if it might come apart at the first puff of wind, but which instead, despite its precarious balance and delicate fragility, is complex and scrupulously constructed, built up layer by layer. Simultaneously densely compact and yet as transparent as filigree, it recalls the open proliferation of a Mario Merz igloo.

While the ideological thrust
 of Arte Povera is absent, the priority given to organic materials 
seems similar to that of the work 
of Giuseppe Penone, or of Jannis 
Kounellis, with whom Löhr studied at the Kunstakademie in
 Düsseldorf in the mid-1990s. 
She absorbed from Kounellis 
the possibility of establishing a 
dialogue between hard and soft,
 impermanent and enduring elements; but she shifted from the monumentality of Kounellis’s work toward a minimal and reflexive modality, articulating her instructor’s rigorous teachings through a more intimist sensibility. The downside of Löhr’s work is its repetitiveness and a certain dose of cuteness: The surprising effect her mini architectures initially generate is mitigated after one has seen them presented with little variation, show after show.

In her series of twenty-six untitled drawings in oil pastel, Japanese ink, or pencil on paper, sinuous and continuous lines emerge from the lower border of each sheet and move upward, following the contour of bare stalks and shafts. When the artist observes a single blade of grass, the sign is precisely delineated; but at other times it is as if she were looking into the depths of a forest, and the black, superimposed marks thicken, nearly cutting off vision altogether. The gaze seems to move from detail to whole, and one perceives the urgency of the pictorial gesture, the compulsion to grasp the substance of forms, from the barely hinted transparency of a bud to the denser thickness of branches. The governing principle behind these drawings is that of the paradox that informs nature itself, where stagnation and growth, order and chaos, repetition and continuous renewal coexist.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.