Vienna

Alexander Wolff

Galerie Mezzanin

This show, “Ausstellung für leidenschaftlich an sich selbst Interessierte” (Exhibition for the Passionately Self-Involved), was designed to be modified. Before the opening, Alexander Wolff arranged everything himself, but in the days that followed he left it up to the gallery staff to exchange some of the pictures at weekly intervals as they saw fit. Of course, this demonstrative relinquishing of the show’s installation was actually just a cunningly displaced insistence on design, as Wolff in fact linked together the individual works to form a cohesive yet rearrangeable installation: Space, image, and material seemed mutually permeable, and their rotation was part of his exhibition structure.

The images themselves obey this logic of variability in a loose, serial patchwork. Wolff avails himself of abstract painting as a fairly indeterminate frame of reference, downgrading its pictorial formulas to achieve a stylized, playful reduction. His minimal stance at first appears anything but clean and glamorous; he deliberately (and ironically) emphasizes the handmade and the material. Using various sorts of cotton, home decorating fabrics, and canvas as supports, he sometimes primes them himself, while at other times he uses mechanically primed surfaces; sometimes these are sprayed, soaked, brushed, or batiked with paint, sometimes left bare. These simple interventions are for the most part immediately evident, and Wolff’s painterly manipulation of material haptically intensifies, modifies, or counterpoints the character of that material rather than forming a unified composition or motif.

Wolff’s works—most of them untitled—usually come into being when prepainted elements are stitched together: In one work from 2009, for example, twelve squares of fabric are joined to make a three-by-four field, stitched in such a way that all the seams face outward, protruding from the surface. The irregular arrangement of segments within the ordered field combined with the occasional use of monochromy serves to disrupt any order that arises, manifesting an overtly fake seriality with an Arte Povera touch. The piece thus goes beyond playing with the pictorial vocabulary of historical abstraction, instead spanning the border between abstract image and material, between imaginary and real space. Painting’s formally self-contained surface is made to suffer a breach of illusion at these seams and points of intersection.

For the arrangement of the pictures in an exhibition, Wolff designs special backgrounds that pick up on elements of the paintings, which he orients using site-specific points of reference, for example placing on the wall a rectangle of wallpaper with the same dimensions as a gallery window or reproducing the format of a door with mirrored film. Even materials such as varnish, imitation wood, street dirt mixed with an acrylic binding agent, Sheetrock, or 1960s home decorating fabrics taken from the artist’s childhood home are employed as mats, literally becoming placeholders—prepared surfaces on which Wolff hangs his pictures. And so they become readable as elements of a larger composition: When the pictures are rearranged, these formal interrelations are simultaneously relativized and multiplied. So where, this work asks, do the borderlines run? When do material and gesture become image, when do picture and wall constitute a greater image in space? In his radical look at strategies of aesthetic self-reference, Wolff insists on the instability of all such assignments.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.