View of “Vera Lossau,” 2012. From left: Age of Base, 2012; Mercury Falling, 2012.

View of “Vera Lossau,” 2012. From left: Age of Base, 2012; Mercury Falling, 2012.

Vera Lossau

View of “Vera Lossau,” 2012. From left: Age of Base, 2012; Mercury Falling, 2012.

Vera Lossau pulls off an unusual balancing act with her sculptures. They are self-consciously Conceptual but nevertheless display traces of the artist’s hand, and like works in the tradition of Minimalism, they often point to their own spatial contexts, though they also take on a metaphorical dimension—a few are even narrative. Can these things go together? Haven’t Conceptual and Minimalist approaches to art always stood in vehement opposition to expressive and metaphorical, let alone narrative, entanglements? As we see in the latest show by this young Düsseldorf-based artist, the combination can work if the contrasts produce an engaging tension.

And this is just what Lossau is after: this tension between Conceptual and Minimalist approaches to sculpture and the metaphorical reach that has been a major part of what sculpture is about. Lossau’s references to medieval Madonnas and her fascination with the art of the early Renaissance, on the one hand, and with Marcel Duchamp on the other, are therefore not merely irreconcilable whims but help define her conceptually grounded modus operandi. But at the same time, she knows that this tension between modernist reductiveness and metaphorical complexities can never be fully resolved. Lossau’s sculptures can come off as absurd—and this is what she wants: “This absurdity gives a tiny sense of freedom, since it exists behind the known structures of perception,” as she explained in an interview. “And precisely this is the motivation for and part of my quest.”

But what does the absurd element as a gesture of freedom look like, concretely, in Lossau’s work? In Age of Base, 2012, overlapping slabs of dolomite lie in a circle, looking as if they’d just fallen over. They recall Richard Long’s stone circles, but at the same time it is impossible not to think of the domino effect we’ve all known since childhood. And there’s more: The flagstones are cut in such a way as to display a pattern that looks almost painterly. This faux painterliness is what makes this work look somehow ridiculous, because it highlights the contradiction between the Minimalist form, the metaphorical referent of the domino game, and the aura of the work’s handcraftedness.

Opposite the circle, a rosette hung on the wall, like a cathedral window: Mercury Falling, 2012. But what would have been individual segments of glass in an original Gothic window have here been modeled out of fired clay. Far from translucent, they are black; they swallow light. And they are obviously handmade. So this work, too, is both Conceptual, since it functions as a negative of the Gothic window, and the result of a pleasantly cheerful crafts experiment reminiscent of playing with clay in kindergarten. This shows one more aspect of Lossau’s work that often accompanies its absurdist tendencies: a subtle humor. Such humor also manifests itself in a smaller work in the show, Ohne Titel (Streichhölzer) (Untitled [Matches]), 2011. Two matches seem to dance atop a sandstone pedestal. They have been joined together near their heads by having been lit, and they resemble a pair of lovers. This tiny sculpture is funny, multifaceted, and intelligent—just like the show as a whole.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.