View of “Max Hooper Schneider,” 2013.

View of “Max Hooper Schneider,” 2013.

Max Hooper Schneider

View of “Max Hooper Schneider,” 2013.

Melding the terrestrial and the surreal, the scientific and the phantasmagoric, the works of American artist Max Hooper Schneider borrow language from the fields of biology and quantum mechanics as much as they do from art history. In this show, drawings, paintings, and living organisms (humans among them) constituted a landscape of mutual modification. Some visitors to Federico Vavassori this past summer might have already been aware of the artist’s proposal (which, in August he would seek to fund via Kickstarter) to produce the “first ever, life-sized, glowing Beluga whale skeleton,” in the interest of making visible the “aliveness of nonhuman things.” So for these viewers, the unconventional formats Schneider chose for his drawings and paintings—one work was roughly woven; two were suspended from butcher’s hooks and another submerged in a tank of fish—likely came as less of a surprise than they did for the uninitiated passerby. Pointing to the links and discontinuities among phyla and even to the realm of the animate and inanimate, Schneider seemingly frames and vitrinizes generative, naturally occurring processes, suggesting that without the “work,” if you will, of plants and animals and rocks and gases, there would be no work of his own. At the same time, he reciprocally demonstrates that his art can poetically (if not exactly realistically) simulate the textures and surfaces of the natural world.

Perhaps the pivotal pieces in this show were a paired terrarium and aquarium, both modestly scaled and positioned side by side on matching white pedestals. In the terrarium, Pomacea Snail System, 2013, a small acrylic painting nearly filled the entire vertical space and hosted some busily climbing snails. Gazing at these creatures was difficult, however, given that their shells, doubling the circular shapes articulated in the painting, blended right in. Just two feet or so away, the aquarium, Albino Clawed Frog—Tetra System, 2013, held thirty little fish, each distinguished by fluorescent side streaks. Like the terrarium, the aquarium also contained a painting, this one colorfully striped. And like the snails, the fish—swimming nervously around and in front of this backdrop—optically disappeared. Contrasting such simple symbiosis, albino frogs, moving along the granular black ground, effectively disrupted the rest of the composition’s idyllic calm.

In some works, Schneider translated these visual dynamics into the design of a tapestry and silk scarves (the latter of which he produced as multiples for this show). The forms of these pieces could be taken as the outcome of yet another speculative and technological translation, one in which the artist returns to pictorial abstraction after seeking confirmation of its primordial existence in nature. Exploring the aesthetic and the performative properties of systems, Schneider applies various methodologies to his mark-making with the intention of initiating natural processes of formation and growth—woven, the precisely measured grid of his tank paintings becomes denatured, or perhaps even more natural-seeming—setting in motion a chain reaction that generates new textures.

Filling out the exhibition were four drawings, each suspended between two sheets of Plexiglas, which in turn were either suspended from the wall or ceiling by butcher’s hooks or placed flat on white plinths. Such an idiosyncratic installation vaguely suggested a laboratory setting, though—since the fish bodies reverberated with the painting bodies, which in turn were subjectively negotiated by the eyes of the viewer bodies—without any clear distinction as to who was being tested against what. In Schneider’s work, systems are not complete in isolation, but rather function only when engaging the generative chaos of open-ended encounters.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.