Cologne

View of “Christian Freudenberger,” 2017. From left to right: o.T. (tic 2, doppelt) (Untitled [Tic 2, Double]), 2017; o.T (tic), 2017; o.T. (leer, tic 3) (Untitled [Empty, Tic 3]), 2017. Photo: Simon Vogel.

View of “Christian Freudenberger,” 2017. From left to right: o.T. (tic 2, doppelt) (Untitled [Tic 2, Double]), 2017; o.T (tic), 2017; o.T. (leer, tic 3) (Untitled [Empty, Tic 3]), 2017. Photo: Simon Vogel.

Christian Freudenberger

Drei

View of “Christian Freudenberger,” 2017. From left to right: o.T. (tic 2, doppelt) (Untitled [Tic 2, Double]), 2017; o.T (tic), 2017; o.T. (leer, tic 3) (Untitled [Empty, Tic 3]), 2017. Photo: Simon Vogel.

In his recent exhibition “‘tic,’” Christian Freudenberger presented three paintings, all dated 2017 and Untitled, with differing parenthetical subtitles containing the French word that also named the show as a whole. Denoting, as in English, a nervous twitch or tremor caused by involuntary muscle contractions, the term may bring to mind a syndrome that disrupts everyday activities; the power of the unconscious, which eludes deliberate control; or any anomaly that calls normality into question. The titles are programmatic, because these three dimensions—the disruption of ordinary perception, the role of the unconscious in such rupture, and the problem of what is thought of as normal and in which contexts—are central preoccupations in Freudenberger’s art.

Freudenberger already probed these themes in an earlier series, “Alternative Objekte,” 2010–12—pictures based on motifs he selected from his personal archive, manipulated, and output onto canvases as pigment prints. Though not technically paintings, these pieces were each unique, and that lent them some of the aura of individually handmade works. In exhibitions such as “Neue Höhlen Heute” (New Caves Today) at the Krefelder Kunstverein in Krefeld, Germany, in 2012, the artist mounted them on a wall he had also painted with an irregular black-and-white chessboard pattern. 

This recent show, by contrast, featured three paintings in black acrylic marker on a coat of grayish-white spackle. The first, o.T. (tic 2, doppelt) (Untitled [Tic 2, Double]), is covered with what look like scrawled variations on a single basic shape that by turns evokes associations of human anatomy and remains an abstract signifier. One is reminded of telephone doodles, but also of works by mid-twentieth-century abstract painters who banked on the creative potential of automatism. Here and there, the scrawls are layered atop splotches of blue. The boxy outlines in the second painting, o.T. (tic), might almost be letters. No words ever quite take shape, but the power of unconscious association makes it hard not to think of the logos that surround us in daily life. The third picture, titled o.T. (leer, tic 3) (Untitled [Empty, Tic 3]), shows—well, what exactly? Several sets of parallel lines hint at a room with a doorway, while brushstrokes farther to the right suggest some kind of motion. An oddly shaped blotch near the bottom-left corner might be the shadow of a missing object. The entire piece could be a comic-strip panel from which all action has been erased.

Mounted on an aluminum scaffold, the three works faced the gallery’s three large windows, and were best seen from the street. The venue’s interior, by contrast, offered only rear views of the canvases and the framework supporting them. This installation undercut conventional expectations; so do the pictures themselves, which invite a variety of unconscious associations—telephone doodles, logos, graphic novels—but are hard to square with “normal” idioms of visual art. With their passing disruptions of the familiar, they might make you wonder just what makes your own interpretive apparatus tick.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.