Anne Neukamp, Clearance, 2019, oil, tempera, and acrylic on linen, 39 3⁄8 × 31 1⁄2".

Anne Neukamp, Clearance, 2019, oil, tempera, and acrylic on linen, 39 3⁄8 × 31 1⁄2".

Anne Neukamp

This exhibition’s title, the triad “ALT-MOA-BIT,” sounded like onomatopoeia or an abstract battle call but was actually derived from the name of the street on which Gregor Podnar recently opened a new gallery space in Berlin’s Mitte district. In this regard, the title of Anne Neukamp’s third solo show with the gallery performed a kind of consecration of the new location. The first hyphen mirrored the normal spelling of the street name, Alt-Moabit; the second was her addition. The graphic tripartition she thus implemented lent the name a forceful rhythm.

In defamiliarizing an element found in situ, the word-image also announced Neukamp’s painterly practice, in which she resorts to similar procedures, quoting ready-made motifs, subjecting them to reduction and distortion, repeating or varying them in sequences. Her sources are depictions of objects she comes across in print advertisements, on billboards, or online; she also repurposes digital renderings of 3-D objects and clip-art symbols. Translating them into painting, she often pushes them to the edge of abstraction, though their origins in commercial art or digital design remain subliminally palpable. Clearance (all works cited, 2019), for instance, features a widely used pictogram, a stylized sheet of paper with a folded corner. It has been turned on its head—the dog-ear is now on the bottom left rather than the top right—and it is flanked by a curvilinear fragment of an indeterminate graphic character, which complements the pseudo-depth of the folded paper with a further, separate layer of spatial illusion. The interpretation of both elements, however, is flat: Boldly outlined in black, each looks rigorously formalized, with almost no trace of painterly gesture. This effect is a hallmark of Neukamp’s work, no less than the contrast between her treatment of the represented object and the surrounding surface. In this case, the interior of the clip-art symbol, which takes up much of the picture, is covered by a solid coat of milky white, while the surrounding area, also white, shows a drier, even powdery application of paint, with the indistinct noncolor of the linen support showing through here and there. We are presented with an empty picture within the picture: a note on monochrome painting in the form of a cunning ruse.

The combination of reductive depictions of objects with semantic elements—graphic characters, digits, icons, or drastically simplified objects—is a pervasive structural principle in Neukamp’s art. In Finesse, she mingles graphic characters with a 3-D objects: two open pizza cartons—so far, so ironic—whose projecting perspectival diagonals are cut down to size in an ornamental and oddly laconic gesture by three large materialized slashes, which organize the ambiguous pictorial space like abstract pulse generators. The stylized, fluid form that appears in threefold repetition in Chart, meanwhile, shares the canvas with the depiction of a soft-white detergent container, its handle a visual echo that both responds to and disrupts the compositional rhythm of the curlicues. The three differently sized replicas of a 3-D element in Impulse are similarly accoutred with evenly spaced black-and-white, adapted-typography diagonals.

What makes Neukamp’s painting process remarkable is her technique: The works are painted in oil, egg tempera, and acrylic on canvas or linen—materials that offer a range of very different finishes, enabling her to both contrast and interweave several compositional planes. The imagery that carries an illusion of spatial depth is usually painted in oil, the grounds in tempera, and the black-and-white typographic elements in acrylic. Conspicuously, she does not privilege one material or zone of the picture over the others: Her objective, she has said, is to have “no unequivocal foregrounds and backgrounds” so that “everything feels like it’s on the same plane.” The pictorial elements are embedded in rather than montaged on the background. On the level of painterly execution no less than that of what is depicted, Neukamp subtly nudges the beholder toward a visual sensation of spatial ambiguity. Clearance is typical: As a representation in a nutshell of abstraction, generated from symbolic-semantic objets trouvés, it encompasses both the tradition of abstract painting and the contemporary media landscape.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.