Thomas Zipp: Harris Lieberman

Article excerpt

Thomas Zipp could never be called unambitious: The Berlin-based artist's first major solo gallery show in New York, at Harris Lieberman, not only coincided with his second solo exhibition in Los Angeles and with a room-size installation at the Berlin Biennale but also tackled some complex subject matter. Zipp frequently interweaves aspects of art history, philosophy, and science. Here, in a show that comprised paintings, works on paper, and a sculptural installation, he sought out the residual value of early-twentieth-century utopian thought in a nuclear age (nuclear war being the "Uranlicht" ["Uranium Light"] of the exhibition's title). Given the scope and gravity of these concerns, Zipp sensibly, and adroitly, dispensed with didactic literalism in favor of suggestive indirectness.

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All alone high up on a large wall near the gallery entrance, Harris (all works 2006), a letter-size mixed-media drawing depicting Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, who orchestrated the Allied saturation bombing of Germany during WWII (and who is the great-uncle of one of the gallery's owners), served as the historical anchor for Zipp's imaginative multimedia explorations. Other small drawings feature formal portraits of a rogues' gallery of anonymous, well-heeled men and skeletons, all of whose eyes are variously punctured by nails and tacks (like victims of a voodoo ritual) or covered with coins (as if in preparation for the afterlife). Some also spout empty speech bubbles. Several large paintings, two propped up on leglike wooden poles, depict imaginary plants sprouting out of denuded, postapocalyptic landscapes. In the gallery's main room, a handmade organ--featuring on-off switches and volume dimmers in place of keys--stood sentinel with a small army of boxy black speakers. Those adventurous enough to play the instrument were treated to a grating mixture of synthesized sounds that, given the context, evoked air-raid sirens. …