Berlin

Alicja Kwade, Etwas Abwesendes, dessen Anwesenheit erwartet wurde (Something Absent Whose Presence Had Been Expected), 2015, marble, dimensions variable.

Alicja Kwade, Etwas Abwesendes, dessen Anwesenheit erwartet wurde (Something Absent Whose Presence Had Been Expected), 2015, marble, dimensions variable.

Alicja Kwade

KÖNIG GALERIE | St. Agnes

Alicja Kwade, Etwas Abwesendes, dessen Anwesenheit erwartet wurde (Something Absent Whose Presence Had Been Expected), 2015, marble, dimensions variable.

Alicja Kwade clearly meant to address some pretty grand concepts in her most recent solo show. Most of the works on view dealt with the materials of an existing system––the hands of a clock, the trade in antique jewelry, this gallery’s lighting fixtures. Their titles referred to ideas as universal as time (Die Zukunft des Vergangenen betrachtend [Contemplating the Future of the Past], all works 2015), value (Relikt und Bedarf [Relic and Demand]), and physical reality (The Heavy Weight of Lively Light). But the results were polite, clunky riffs on product design rather than the lofty experiments pointed to by these phrases.

The work that gave the exhibition its title, Etwas Abwesendes, dessen Anwesenheit erwartet wurde (Something Absent Whose Presence Had Been Expected), consists of pieces of white marble. Several pillars over six feet tall––and each about the width and depth of a standard museum pedestal––stood just inside the open doorway leading to the main exhibition space. The tops of all but the first pillar were jagged and rough, as if a piece had broken off. Standing nearer to the center of the room were shorter pillars that might have been the broken-off bits. Increasingly smaller pieces of marble were spread along the floor within a rectangular field, almost all the way to the wall opposite the open doorway, where the marble had been reduced to dust. The work’s expansion across the field of the gallery and its rigorously ordered, consecutive elements revealed a debt to Minimalist and post-Minimalist precedents. But what was the work otherwise? The reduction by rote of a material that symbolizes a kind of value. If the work was missing something, as the title suggested, it was not a profound and mysterious framework but simply a sense of purpose or effective content.

Kwade’s exhibition was amply populated by works with some formal novelty and the same limited scope. Several were as good as one-liners: Two of the gallery’s fluorescent lights had been replaced by versions made to look as if they were bowing under the weight of light itself, Heavy Light (1) and Heavy Light (2). For Selbstporträt (Self-Portrait), samples of each of the twenty-two chemical elements found in the human body had been arranged in correspondingly labeled vials and set against a white board that was framed and hung on the wall.

Even the most attention-grabbing work in the exhibition was little more than a banal idea given a melodramatic form and an ostentatious title: Die Zukunft des Vergangenen betrachtend is a slow-motion HD video showing, with a powerful sound system playing back the sound of, a piece of glass shattering as it hits the floor. Pieces of glass lay scattered on the floor of the gallery around the monitor playing the video––perhaps the same pieces seen in the video. Visitors might have been curious enough to watch the glass slowly separate or the colors that flickered across the surfaces of the magnified, hyperdetailed shards. Ultimately, though, it was the technological means of reproduction and its not insignificant production quality that lent what interest there was to an otherwise mundane idea and its equally predictable realization.

––John Beeson