Guido Nussbaum, 5 Schweizer Welten oval/schwebend (5 Swiss Worlds Oval/Floating), 2000–2001, oil on Pavatex, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2".

Guido Nussbaum, 5 Schweizer Welten oval/schwebend (5 Swiss Worlds Oval/Floating), 2000–2001, oil on Pavatex, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2".

Guido Nussbaum

Guido Nussbaum, 5 Schweizer Welten oval/schwebend (5 Swiss Worlds Oval/Floating), 2000–2001, oil on Pavatex, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2".

In the past, the globe, that model of the world as it appears from God’s perspective, inspired great strategists while encouraging them to gloss over the facts on the ground. These days, our view of the world alternates in a seamless zoom between images of outer space and individual buildings on Google Earth. We’ve become accustomed to clicking a mouse to choose between galaxies, continents, and street ad-dresses, in each case having direct access to details. For decades now, Guido Nussbaum has been studying images of our earth and painting pictures based on them. Nuss-baum is not a distanced observer of terrestrial matters, even though his point of departure is the bigger picture. Painted with virtuoso skill in a convincingly realistic style, his oceans and continents seem constantly to be creating new formal relationships.

Kleine blaue und grosse fleisch farbene Weltkugel (Small Blue and Large Flesh-Colored Globe), 2005–2006, an earth illusionistically painted brown and red, makes up a human-size tondo. At its center, a detached green area recalls the shape of South America, but the surrounding oceans appear dried out, as if the water on this new red planet has withdrawn to the poles. Like a docked spaceship or an electron temporarily attached to an atomic nucleus, a blue planet sits to the lower right of the larger sphere, keeping alive memories of a long-past cosmic age. The elliptical canvas 5 Schweizer Welten oval/schwebend (5 Swiss Worlds Oval/Floating), 2000–2001, represents an enormous ocean framed by continents at its edges—five egg-shaped worlds drifting like cloud formations. These interior images are set horizontally into the paintings. Each contains primeval plains, high mountain peaks, or glacial landscapes delicately veined with meandering rivers, bays, and fjords. They gaze at us like afterimages from the depths of open eye sockets. In Nussbaum’s works, the notion that cartography is not neutral but historically contingent is pushed to the point of the fantastical. Moons can multiply exponentially as pictures within pictures; worlds form molecules by attaching to, absorbing, or repelling one another; and land and water masses change places, suggesting auspicious utopias or ecological nightmares.

These whimsical views of the globe or its fragments are themselves for the most part tondi or ovals, creating an immediate tension in both the visual and conceptual relationships between the objects and the vantage point from which they are viewed. As a matter of principle, Nussbaum has never limited himself to a single medium; he has also produced photographic and sculptural works, installations, and videos. His employment of any artistic technique is always coupled with a questioning of its social relevance. But his work stands out from the majority of contemporary artistic approaches to social questions because his subtle humor does not spare even his own position.

In this show, Nussbaum swapped out one of the twelve paintings in the gallery every day at 6 pm, replacing it with a new one or else exchanging a work that had been sold for an older one from his storage. Every morning, then, the hanging was a little bit different, the constellation of images changed. The mobility of the paintings underscores not only the dynamic quality of these world pictures but also their status as commodities. Not only as a painter but also as a regular visitor to his own show, Nussbaum took the liberty of intervening in the process of worldview formation.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.