Frank Nitsche, ROB-20-2005, 2005, oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 78 3/4".

Frank Nitsche, ROB-20-2005, 2005, oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 78 3/4".

Frank Nitsche

Frank Nitsche, ROB-20-2005, 2005, oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 78 3/4".

A solo with a sidekick: Frank Nitsche, a painter known for his complex, synthetic-abstract manipulations of pictorial space, invited Swiss video artist Yves Netzhammer to augment his first institutional show in Berlin with a couple of bonus works—thus “Frank Nitsche COCKTAILHYBRIDCONCEPT—Feat. Yves Netzhammer,” which filled both floors of Haus am Waldsee. Nitsche focused his conceptually rigorous presentation on a new group of works from 2010, juxtaposing them with selected pieces from the last ten years to create calculated constellations. This above all made the exhibition worth seeing. Netzhammer contributed two videos from two different phases of his career: Möbel der Proportionen (Furniture of Proportions), 2008, and Junge Äste ahmen alte Geweihe nach und alte Geweihe junge Äste (Young branches imitate old antlers and old antlers young branches), 1999. Admittedly, the psychedelic gravitational force exerted by Netzhammer’s mystical-technoid existentialism is as effective as ever. And perhaps this is why it took this visitor a while to realize that these works were not actually providing any genuinely interesting perspectives on the world of Nitsche’s images.

The points of comparison that had likely been taken into account when the show was being planned—a shared interest in artificially generated surfaces and a distinctively chilly hermeticism—only served to emphasize that the two artists are so very different temperamentally that their work never actually connected here. Sometimes the pairing appeared accidental or mistaken. Nitsche’s art is antinarrative in a fundamental, well-considered way—not only in its motifs but also in its relationship to the medium, painting itself. With Netzhammer, on the other hand, the cool seductiveness of the work emerges gradually as he spins out his mythical-deconstructive stories in pictures. His use of the computer as a congenial tool is consistent with the logic of his work. But the emphatically flat surfaces that result from the two approaches have less to do with one another than their pairing would suggest: Netzhammer is strictly interested in associative, universal fables, while Nitsche radicalizes painting as construction.

The constructive aspect of Nitsche’s work becomes clear when you think about his process. Eschewing computer technology, he makes his paintings via classical studio methods, directly on the canvas, in a way that involves all sorts of imponderables: He paints, sets the canvas aside, and then paints over it again, repeating this process until the construction has achieved a certain unpredictable rightness (or awkwardness), i.e., until it displays the desired tension, rigor, and dynamic momentum. In formal terms, these images bring together references that range from Analytical Cubism to Malevich’s Constructivism to CAD-supported architectural renderings, recast by Nitsche to create his own visual language. His sources include materials from popular culture, such as advertising stickers bearing various messages in a wide range of styles and designs. Nitsche collects these kinds of objects almost manically—and incorporated them into the show as well: A column made of beverage cans piled all the way to the ceiling and completely covered with stickers protruded into the show’s cosmos of abstract images as a thematic epicenter. By presenting one of his sources in this way, Nitsche was also, however, emphasizing the distance that separates his paintings from any sort of source material. He uses such elements to construct autonomous, contradictory pictorial structures that often appear dynamically charged yet at the same time off-kilter. In his abstractions, the distortion and destruction of form lead to a synthesis in which not even traces of transformed zeitgeist slickness remain.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.