Maria Nordman, Plan for De Ondas (On Waves), 1983, ink and paint on vellum, 21 1/4 x 78 3/4".

Maria Nordman, Plan for De Ondas (On Waves), 1983, ink and paint on vellum, 21 1/4 x 78 3/4".

Maria Nordman

Maria Nordman, Plan for De Ondas (On Waves), 1983, ink and paint on vellum, 21 1/4 x 78 3/4".

Maria Nordman’s first solo exhibition in Berlin consisted entirely of works that she made in the 1970s and ’80s but which are dated as if extending toward a perpetual present moment, as is always the case in her production. Though born in Germany, Nordman is strongly associated with Los Angeles in those decades, when artists came to emphasize sculpture’s field of installation––especially viewers’ perception of physical form in relation to light, space, and site.

At Konrad Fischer Galerie in Berlin, De Ondas (Portuguese for “on waves”), 1983–, assumed a deconstructed form that differed from the way it was first shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, where, one by one, visitors could walk through the composed structure (as the artist calls it) and arrive at the Pacific Ocean. Now, thirty years later, long, slender slats of unpainted white cedar extended along the gallery floor in several directions. Some contained pegs set at close intervals, short wooden dowels sunk into the slats’ upward-facing surfaces. Others had notches carved into their sides or protruding from their ends and appeared as if they could be joined together. Some elements were stacked lengthwise atop one another. All were elevated above the ground by small wooden supports. In addition, eight rectangular forms—stretched canvas left blank––that, standing vertically, could double as doors leaned against the walls. It was clear that the elements could be assembled in some form, and they possessed a formidable sense of potential as a result. The fact that the blanket-of-white gallery-lighting system was turned off, leaving the forms to be illuminated by the low light of an overcast afternoon, only heightened the impression that the work was in a state of formal transition. Along these lines, De Ondas shares several similarities with works by Imi Knoebel such as Raum 19 (Room 19), 1968, and Genter Raum (Ghent Room), 1980—variable installations primarily composed of untreated wood, which constitute plastic forms and implicitly invoke the vocabulary of storage through the stacking and leaning of pieces against one another or a wall. However, whereas Knoebel’s Raum 19 takes the room in which his studio was located at the art academy in Düsseldorf as a namesake and is thus forever tied to it, De Ondas sets the permutational nature of its structure in relation to its environment, in which ever-changing light, space, sound, and visitors are essential components.

Nordman’s investment in viewer interaction was made even clearer by the four other works that populated this exhibition. Each takes the form of a wooden box (or series of boxes) painted white on the outside. The artist has mounted framed drawings on sliding metal tracks inside each box so that viewers can pull them out and into sight. In the case of Temple & Alameda, times of openings, 1972–, the box, more than six feet tall, contains two works in mixed media on vellum. By turns geometrically abstract and diagrammatic, the drawings combine color shapes with written information and photographs relating to an earlier presentation of the artist’s work.

Besides being a functional means of both housing the artist’s drawings and making them accessible for display, these boxes contribute to the logic of viewer engagement based on presence that characterizes all of the works in the exhibition; by inviting viewers to interact, Nordman prioritizes their experience with the work over the static form of the work in any one presentation. Itself an abstract kind of kineticism, this inherently social exchange undoubtedly exists in the moment when the viewer takes hold of the object and moves it, but also in every moment that hidden drawings could be revealed, that De Ondas could be assembled as a composed structure—in fact, in any moment when a viewer is present to witness these dynamic works in their specificity.

––John Beeson