From Bauhaus to DNA: Thomas Scheibitz at Tanya Bonakdar
Thomas Scheibitz: “A Panoramic VIEW of Basic Events” at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
January 12 to February 18, 2012
521 West 21st Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, (212) 414-4144
There’s no explicit message in Thomas Scheibitz’s multifaceted project at Tanya Bonakdar, but its sheer scale and ambitious organization demand interpretation. They evoke the idealistic Bauhaus vision of architectural synthesis, and Scheibitz’s inventive integration of collage, painting and sculpture, while rooted in the contemporary visual environment, is inspired by the high modernism of Bauhaus style, with its bold, functional forms and its basis in the grid. The large painting that lends the exhibition its title consists of a grid with nine compartments; the sharply defined planes that connect their disparate contents build tensions between flatness and depth. While Scheibitz inclines more towards the whimsy of Paul Klee than to the systematism of Walter Gropius, there’s nonetheless an underlying dialectic to his method.
Scheibitz begins by collecting images, from the visual information that populates our computer screens to more refined photos of fashion, art and typography, which he assembles on worksheets and then elaborates upon with hand-drawn riffs; these personally inflected images give rise to denser collages, with components loosely organized in vertical/horizontal arrays. Scheibitz brings a sophisticated eye for abstraction to these overall compositions, in which contrasts in context and color generate connections across boundaries: everyday objects combine with images of his own works, classical sculpture with advertisements, and black and white photos with neon. Suggesting a generative function to this cross-fertilization, the five digital prints in this series are entitled A.G.C.T., for the nucleic acids in DNA.
Sixteen small paintings, set widely apart on the walls of the large gallery, could then be seen as cultures, in which essential features of the archived materials are isolated and refined. Often taking geometric figures or motifs from typography as a basis for improvisation, Scheibitz uses bold, dark outlines to carve out shapes, sometimes with cubistic precision and sometimes with cartoonish animation. The outlines lend them a graphic quality, but with a human inflection. A photo of a wedge of cheese gives rise to a ghostly face. The one grid painting in this group, with its compartments ambiguously brushed out, is hung diagonally, like an eccentric window.
Sculptures also spin off from these images, sometimes with functional motifs, but elsewhere with more enigmatic whimsy. A white column bears a row of black frames, like an empty film clip, while a vertical box shaped something like a lower-case “h” sprouts a row of balls on its arched spine. But A Panoramic VIEW of Basic Events, the major painting in the show, seems to work against this proliferation of images: it compresses its separate compartments into an overall composition.
Into this highly abstracted construction, Scheibitz weaves further allusions to modernist predecessors. Like Mondrian, he restricts himself to black, gray, and the primary colors, albeit freely modulated. At top center is a circle, suggesting the face of a clock – an organizing mechanism for “events”, but without hands, like the clock in Matisse’s Red Studio, an emblem of the timeless space of art. In the center below it, diagonal lines shift from flat patterns into the third dimension, recalling Paul Klee’s pedagogical diagrams of points developing into lines and planes; farther right, the planes open inward to construct a room. Other suggestions of depth imply a hidden internal structure. A wide brushstroke obscures part of the upper left panel, and the arc spanning the bottom center seems part of a bigger circle somewhere behind the grid – perhaps another, larger timepiece. This is a panorama that still leaves things covered up and ambiguous.
There’s an ad hoc quality to the central blue diagonal that breaks out of its frame – order here seems less imposed by the grid than to grow out of it. Scheibitz relies on the Bauhaus method of “Gestaltung”: arranging visual elements on a grid, so as to encourage intuitive orders to emerge. For all its finely articulated construction, “A Panoramic VIEW” retains some open-ended informality, an internalized restlessness. Some areas are only loosely brushed in; colors seep from under the borders of the planes at right center, in contrast to the sharp outlines that define the banana-shaped protrusion to their left, evidence of a constant dialectic between closing in and opening up. The “Basic Events” of the exhibition’s title might well refer to the ongoing proliferation of intuitive connections.
Scheibitz has extended a classical modernist style to embrace our late capitalist culture of constructed forms and digital images. From his informal collection of photographic reproductions emerge not modernism’s high visions of utilitarian progress, but impulses more playful and unexpected. There’s no returning to origins, but by winnowing out the basic visual elements in his archive, Scheibitz taps a reservoir of optimistic energy and affords our imaginations a space of free play.