Pop History: Jiri Georg Dokoupil’s Modernist Bubbles
Jiri Georg Dokoupil: New Paintings at Paul Kasmin
January 8 to February 7, 2015
515 W. 27th Street (between 10th and 11th avenues)
New York, 212 563 4474
When viewing a painting, we usually have some conception (perhaps vague) of how it was made. We know that doing frescos required marking off sections of the wall, starting with sinopia, the underdrawings underneath the painted surface. We realize that an old master easel painting done in oil pigment involves a different manner of making, one more readily accommodating of reworking of the image. And we are aware that Modernists, too, employed diverse techniques — Morris Louis poured his abstract acrylics, as if making a tie-dyed shirt, working in a studio too small to allow unfurling his canvases, while Andy Warhol used silkscreens made from his photographic images to paint portraits in the Factory. In this marvelous show we see that Dokoupil, too, has added to the repertoire of art-making techniques. Starting in the early 1990s, he has made soap bubble paintings by placing metallic pigments and diamond dust on soap-lye, and allowing these forms to settle on his canvas. To properly understand the expressive significance of these works you need to know how they are made.
Everyone knows the children’s game in which you plunge a shaped wire into the liquid solution, and then wave it in the air, making small soap bubbles, which float upward, capturing the colors of the rainbow as they swiftly vanish. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s Soap Bubbles (1733-1735) shows such a game. Viewing his painting, you are reminded that sometimes visual beauty, like life itself, may provide only fleeting pleasures. Dokoupil’s much larger, industrial scale bubbles, they are a-foot-and-a-half across, glow in high-pitched, pale colors set on an absorbent black background. Because normal soap bubbles are transparent, you look through them. In his big paintings, the largest are three meters square, those fleeting soup-bubble effects are fixed permanently, as if depicting glowing enlarged microscopic images — but of what? The pictures look like abstractions, but it could be argued that they are representational pictures with an unfamiliar subject. However we identify their content, they certainly are very beautiful works of art. And being presented in Kasmin’s magnificent 27th Street gallery, one of the most visually welcoming Chelsea spaces, significantly enhanced this exhibition. Looking from the street through the glass entrance wall, even before entering you could see the glowing paintings lit from the row of skylights.
Contemporary art, Dokoupil seems to be saying, can still have the magical power to give pleasure by making transient visual effects permanent.