New York

View of “Gregor Hildebrandt,” 2018. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

View of “Gregor Hildebrandt,” 2018. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

Gregor Hildebrandt

If unheard melodies are sweet, as John Keats says, there was abundant sweetness in the imposing “total environment” Gregor Hildebrandt realized for his second New York exhibition. The Berlin-based artist has long specialized in outdated recording media—most notably cassette tapes and vinyl records—focusing not on their capacity for storing and conveying sound, but instead employing them as mute materials, elements with which to create paintings and sculptures that have music buried within them. The choice of media would seem restrictive, but by showing the impressive range of formal effects he can draw from them, Hildebrandt justified the biblically resonant title he gave his exhibition, “In meiner Wohnung gibt es viele Zimmer” (In My Apartment, There Are Many Rooms).

The exhibition really did have rooms, with freestanding walls made from thousands of LPs that were folded into bowl-shaped forms that, when stacked, became the “bricks” making up these temporary structures. (The black records were found in flea markets, but the artist also had white ones pressed expressly for this purpose.) A Brancusi-esque “endless column” of these LP vessels could be seen in the gallery’s stairwell, penetrating all the floors of the building. Hung within the enclosed spaces were a multitude of quasi paintings—only some of which actually featured paint. The least prepossessing, in my view, were the smaller pieces for which cassette tapes and leader along with minimal amounts of red, yellow, or blue acrylic were used to create neoplastic compositions à la Piet Mondrian. In some cases, we could guess that the work’s title indicated the music on the tapes; I miss the kiss of treachery (Cure) (all works 2018) takes its name from the lyrics of the 1989 song “Disintegration” by the Cure. But while the skinny lines of white leader or dark-gray tape lent the painting a refreshingly tactile quality, the familiarity of the art-historical reference kept it, and similar pieces, from being much more than cute. Far more engaging were the works constructed from small rectangles and triangles cut out of colored vinyl records. Mit Henkeln aus Nephrit (With Pot Handle Made Out of Nephripte), with its various hues of yellow, is derived from a couple of rather obscure drum-and-bass and electronic/dance EPs, as well as from a record by PAAR, a band that includes one of Hildebrandt’s students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and that the artist released on his own label. But more important are the intricate patterning and the way the grooves’ arcs reflect the ambient light, giving the work an effect quite distinct from that of any modernist geometrical abstraction it might evoke. Paintings woven out of cassette tape, such as Dein Kissen umarmt Dich (Blumfeld) (Your Cushion Hugs You [Blumfeld]), were full of unexpectedly subtle tonal variations. More impressive still was a giant black-and-white gestural painting executed on VHS tape, hanging like a curtain in front of an entire wall. Several rectangular apertures in the curtain are filled with tape-on-canvas paintings that continue the painterly gestures visible in the work that encompasses them, but in the negative. The painting was produced through a complex process that strips the magnetic coating from the tape’s plastic. This procedure renders it possible for Hildebrandt to make two works out of every such action, one positive and one negative. The installation at Perrotin, Die Notwendigkeit der Hoffnung (The Need for Hope), is the negative of one that was exhibited simultaneously at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen in Germany.

Painting and sculpture are normally silent, of course, yet paradoxically Hildebrandt’s tactile evocation of music renders his works deafening. Likewise, his exhibition of the negative imprint of an image erases the image it conveys. Fossilized in some impalpable elsewhere, its absent energy teases us out of thought.