Sofie Bird Møller, Untitled, 2011, collage on steel engraving, 10 1/2 x 8".

Sofie Bird Møller, Untitled, 2011, collage on steel engraving, 10 1/2 x 8".

Sofie Bird Møller


Sofie Bird Møller, Untitled, 2011, collage on steel engraving, 10 1/2 x 8".

There are artists you go on referring to as painters even when they produce works without a lick of paint. One such artist is Sofie Bird Møller, who has now created an installation composed of thirty-three collages, each Untitled (all works 2011). No paint to be found anywhere here, but there are but plenty of allusions to paintings. The collages are based on reproductions of paintings by Raphael, Giorgione, Dürer, and others in a nineteenth-century catalogue of the collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Taking these black-and-white engravings as her raw materials, the artist added color by pasting on clippings from glossy fashion magazines of half-dressed figures or isolated body parts. The effect of these modifications differs in each piece, sometimes extending or revising a movement in the engraving, sometimes serving as a counterpoint or embellishment. The faces in the original prints are consistently covered by the clippings, a move that drastically alters the organization of the pictures.

The artist also presented “modifications” of existing pictures in her previous show at Sassa Trülzsch in 2009. Then they were strokes of paint brushed over fashion photographs from magazines. Even as the models were concealed, their poses and movements were accentuated and abstracted. The new show reverses this process, with bits of fashion photographs pasted onto “paintings,” to comparable effect. A picture is concealed from view and, by the same act, brought to life and given a new layer of resonance.

What connects the collages, despite their differences, is an atmosphere of grace and sensuality. This can be traced back to the hand of the artist. The gesture by which the modification was accomplished remains palpable as a kind of implicit content of the work, almost to the extent of recalling Abstract Expressionism. A second leitmotif is intervention, which plays a role in all these works. The artist responds to an existing picture with a painter’s tool kit, her response taking the form of physical engagement with the image.

In the second room of the gallery, visitors could watch the seven-and-a-half-minute black-and-white video Catch Me if You Can, inspired by the film The Invisible Man (1933). Objects move, doors open, cigarettes are smoked, but the people responsible cannot be seen—they have been removed. Bodenarbeit (Groundwork), shown in the same room, consists of twenty-nine panels laid out on the ground, abutted like tiles, and bearing vague traces of color and the remains of torn photographs—an incomplete false floor. This installation was unconvincing, possibly because it did not fill the room and viewers were not forced to actually step on it, which would involve a “destructive” act. Although it seemed to want to be something else, this work still amounted to a kind of picture. Yet it put the spotlight on Møller’s proclivity for experiment and recycling. Her work is a product of trial and error and of the awareness that material has the potential to transform even after it has supposedly failed or been discarded. Playing with material possibilities is part of her project. And when she succeeds, as in her collages, she breathes new life into the painter’s art.

Jurriaan Benschop

Translated from Dutch by David McKay.