Kasper Sonne, TXC57, 2014, industrial paint and chemicals on canvas, 60 × 48". From the series “TXC,” 2013.

Kasper Sonne, TXC57, 2014, industrial paint and chemicals on canvas, 60 × 48". From the series “TXC,” 2013.

Kasper Sonne

Brand New Gallery

Kasper Sonne, TXC57, 2014, industrial paint and chemicals on canvas, 60 × 48". From the series “TXC,” 2013.

“Bad Chemistry,” Kasper Sonne’s first solo show in Italy, included an intriguing cross section of the artist’s work. On view were canvases from his “TXC” series, 2013–; an installation titled The Impurity of Purity, 2014, made up of a group of glass and plastic containers; and the 2014 video that lent its name to the exhibition. The canvases, in aluminum frames, are monochromes on which the artist has poured chemical solvents that destroy their painted surfaces, creating halos, streaks, and gradations of corrosion. The containers hold rainwater, which viewers might at first associate with freshness and purity, until they learn that it has been collected in New York, a hot spot for acid rain. The video, composed entirely of text in white lettering on a black ground, presents a sequence of phrases (in English) such as BAD ARTIST, BAD GALLERIST, BAD PAINTING, and, indeed, BAD CHEMISTRY.

Critical writing about Sonne has emphasized the dual construction/destruction register that the New York–based Danish artist implements throughout his work. Here too, the confrontation of opposites—purity and impurity, cleanliness and contamination—was clear, even to the point of didacticism. Yet the formal resolution of this opposition risked becoming too soft, too gentle compared to some of the artist’s past works. The final product is highly resolved, almost elegant, seeming to contradict the raw, messy clashes it depicts.

And yet through this emphasis on the opposing principles of construction and destruction, Sonne’s art establishes a sort of “battlefield,” on which not just individual works but entire linguistic territories face off. For example, looking at a canvas from the “TXC” series in terms of its intrinsic language, one might describe a monochrome negated by the action of the solvent. In play are all the associations that come with the history of the monochrome, along with references to the aesthetics of chance, the beauty of the fragment, the ruin, and so on. Yet on these terms, Sonne’s works do not always seem as significant as some of the precedents to which they nod. If we consider a bottle of acid rain in The Impurity of Purity as an ecological denunciation of the planet’s man-made disasters, we might come up with much more radical works, from the 1970s up through the present, that would make Sonne’s approach seem comparatively imitative, both conceptually and formally. What is most interesting about Sonne’s work, however, is the contrast between the real experiences engendered by his pieces, the fears and reactions they arouse in each viewer, and the formal language of his art. Highlighting the opposition between individual, social, and political experience on the one hand and the codified language of artistic activity on the other, he thus succeeds in instilling his works with an ambiguity charged with tension.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.