Basel

G. Küng, Big Glass Slide, 2013, glass, ink, alcohol, nails, 59 x 47 1/4".

G. Küng, Big Glass Slide, 2013, glass, ink, alcohol, nails, 59 x 47 1/4".

Dunja Herzog and G. Küng

Ausstellungsraum Klingental

G. Küng, Big Glass Slide, 2013, glass, ink, alcohol, nails, 59 x 47 1/4".

Materials and their metamorphoses might have been the casual thesis of “Under a hunch,” organized by Rahel Schelker. This subtle yet convincing exhibition of works by Dunja Herzog and G. Küng (with a singular assist by an elder, Terry Fox, and his classic 1974 video Children’s Tapes) explored Minimalism, both as a movement and as a more general tendency. The artists produced the disparate objects shown by exploring the consequences of bringing basic, even elemental, materials into formal or alchemical proximity. In parallel to this material simplicity, the show asserted a diminutive scale, both in the humble, colorful works scattered across the gallery and in lexical form—see Herzog’s Petit Maître (Little Master) and Trägerli (Little Carrier) (all works 2013, except, of course, Fox’s). This focus on intimacy is perhaps rooted in the Swiss-German heritage shared by both artists (though Küng is American-born). In Schwyzerdütsch, words are often accorded a -li suffix, turning everything into a smaller, sweeter version of itself: While the diminutive can designate size, it also indicates affection. Through their economy of size and gesture, Herzog and Küng find something outsize and emotionally powerful.

The pair attended the Glasgow School of Art together, and their practices share similar sensibilities, informed by a common materialist curiosity. Küng’s works here are characterized by gorgeous admixtures of water, ink, paper, plastic, and glass, resulting in adept abstract assemblages, mostly affixed to the gallery walls. Agreeing to Disagree, a transparent plastic bag attached to the wall at an angle by two thin pieces of wood, holds turquoise-tinted water. The clear bag acts as a kind of canvas-container, against which the perpendicular lines of dark wood and the triangle of Caribbean-blue water create a decisively graphic collage. Big Glass Slide, in which two pieces of broken glass fixed to the wall are layered, with alcohol and colored inks pressed between them, offers a psychedelic swirl of nearly fluorescent color. In both works, the transparent glass or plastic acts as a frame for ink and water, which—as in the chance-based collages of Hans Arp—settle into graphic compositions as they and gravity see fit.

Conversely, Herzog’s more bathetic, roughshod works generally use the floor as support structure. Küng’s blue triangle of water finds a rhyme in Herzog’s Blue Cone, an inflated blue plastic bag sitting on the floor, crowned by a halo of foam, and in Loïc, a triangular piece of rubber from an inner tube draped pathetically over two leglike steel rods set into “feet” of clay. Herzog’s work is shadowed by the sad absurdity of its corporeal allusions; consider the clown-like Loïc, or Where I hang my hat, an assemblage that includes a chair whose seat and back are made entirely from delicate sheets of dried white paint. Even when the body itself is missing, its specter is very much there. In a room nearby, Fox’s black-and-white video showed domestic mini-dramas of cause and effect enacted on a tabletop. The absorption of water creates a star out of some bent matches; a piece of ice melting causes a spoon to fall. The video underlines the heritage of the materialist, intuitive, playful bent of the two younger artists while at the same time indicating how their practices—so different in form and tone if not in content from Fox’s—build on and finally away from this historical legacy.

Quinn Latimer