Article excerpt

In the run-up to what promises to be a marathon year for Charline von Heyl (a major survey of her work is currently on view at the Tate Liverpool), a recent exhibition of a decade's worth of her paintings and works on paper at the Philadelphia ICA gave visitors a sampling of what is surely one of the more challenging, complex--and enjoyable--bodies of contemporary abstract painting. For von Heyl, painting is as alive as ever; it is the medium's fecundity in the here and now that interests her most. If the burden of modernism is at issue in her work, it is as a storehouse of pictorial tactics, no longer a nightmare--not even a burden. Equivocation and self-sabotage are the motivating forces of von Heyl's practice, which proceeds as a two-step of gesture and countergesture, each maneuver feeding on the previous one without negating it.

The seventeen paintings presented in Philadelphia this past fall (and which go on view March 21 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston) were made between 2001 and 201 1, the majority having been produced in the past few years. Complementing the paintings were three suites of works on paper (dating from 2003, 2005, and 2011, respectively), which provided a rich account of the German-born artist's breakthrough decade. These collage-based drawings and prints refer to the world of the studio, but also to the laptop: Von Heyl treats the blank page as a site of pictorial manipulation, applying spray paint and ink as though rendering so many digital "effects." Photocopied material can be found interspersed throughout these works, some of it culled from earlier pieces, some borrowed from other artists--for example, Dino Buzzati's Poema a fumetti (Poem Strip), a 1969 graphic-novel version of the Orpheus myth. Yet von Heyl attaches no special meaning to these acts of appropriation, assigning equal status to drawing and photocopying. Fragments coexist with fragments; artifice is all.

In the era of Photoshop, could it possibly be otherwise? Von Heyl's practice of cutting across pictorial strata closely approximates--intentionally or not--the ontology of digitally manipulated images, the layers of which only gel together in the final, "flattened" picture. …


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