San Francisco

Felix Schramm, Transom, 2019, gypsum, wood, pigment, 15' 2“ × 14' 2” × 18' 8".

Felix Schramm, Transom, 2019, gypsum, wood, pigment, 15' 2“ × 14' 2” × 18' 8".

Jannis Kounellis and Felix Schramm

Adrian Rosenfeld Gallery

A distinct theatricalization of the everyday links the practices of Jannis Kounellis and Felix Schramm, two longtime friends who were once teacher and student. Although the late Greek Italian artist had a penchant for heavy materials, while the German artist is more attentive to lightness and play, their practices meet on philosophical grounds, as this dual exhibition demonstrated. Kounellis was represented by three moments in his artistic arc: a pre–Arte Povera painting, a 1979 print made at San Francisco’s legendary Crown Point Press, and two assemblages that display the affective material discordance typical of his mature practice. The 1963 painting Lunedi, Martedi, Mercoledi (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), showed the artist using the force of symbolic systems to activate his compositions. The three titular words were stacked on top of one another, their large, bold lettering softened by their palette of ivory, pale pink, and ochre. The histrionics of gestural abstraction were supplanted with a Pop marquee for the diminutive dramas of daily life. By the late ’60s, Kounellis had turned up the intensity and become known for exhibiting fire, foodstuffs, and even live animals alongside structures made of iron and steel. The two assemblages nearby (both Untitled) were from the present decade, but they epitomized the dramaturgical dimension the artist sought through bold material contrasts. In Untitled, 2016, a painted wooden wardrobe appeared trapped between slabs of iron; the clash between the domestic and industrial evoked a crisis of humanity under the weight of its own technological prowess.

Schramm, who studied with Kounellis at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the early ’90s, was also represented here by selections from three discrete bodies of work. The most assertive of these was Transom, 2019, one of the incursions of painted drywall for which the artist is best known. Upending the order of the white cube, Schramm’s gaily painted sculpture appeared to burst through one of the gallery’s four walls. With all of its visual dynamism, this piece forcibly choreographed new movements for the visitor, who entered the space through a small jagged doorway created by the massive cantilevered structure. Also on view were two of Schramm’s works from the ongoing series “Accumulation,” 2011–, which often involves multistory vitrines. One, accumulated (Forced Forms), 2016, was filled with a drawing, casts of body parts, and materials pillaged from other works. The layers of accumulated (Crossings), 2017, were organized such that the viewer was beckoned to circumnavigate the tall structure—to stretch up and crouch down—to see what surprises were revealed on each level. As with Transom, this object stage-managed the viewer’s body in the theater of art. The point was redoubled by three framed works from 2019 that, on the contrary, could only be apprehended visually: In tinted acrylic shadowboxes, Schramm exhibited dust that he had collected from the studio floor, glued to a flat substrate, and then covered with silver leaf. Each titled Dark Site followed by a number, these hauntingly appealing surfaces index artistic process, however frozen in time.

In its dramatic tensions between light and dark, chaos and calm, the exhibition revealed Kounellis and Schramm to share a Baroque sensibility. Seventeenth-century European gardens were designed in a similar manner: Moving through different zones, viewers were engaged and delighted by sensory stimuli and unexpected breaks in the symmetry imposed on nature. Within these verdant testaments to absolute power, moments of unsteadiness served as a reminder of the complexity of the natural world. Kounellis and Schramm, each in his own way, have used art to engage the audience in sensory performances of the covenant between production and destruction, or the balance between stasis and volatility. This intergenerational dialogue elucidated each artist’s concern for the precariousness of the human condition in ways that reach forward to the humanitarian and environmental crises of the present.