Suzanne Hudson on Katja Strunz

By Hudson, Suzanne | Artforum International, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Suzanne Hudson on Katja Strunz


Hudson, Suzanne, Artforum International


MAYBE THIS IS APOCRYPHAL and maybe it's not: On first seeing Robert Smithson's crystalline Untitled, 1964-65, as a student in Karlsruhe, Germany, artist Katja Strunz put away her paintbrushes and began to make her own prismlike wall sculptures with multiple vanishing points. However, she abolished his mirrored panels to deny reflection and the infinite regress of their facings, and thus made what she called a Smithson "with its eyes poked out." Like most origin stories and oedipal fables, this one is credible in its particulars and freighted with the genealogical implications of its performative blinding. And in relation to the angular cuts and multifaceted surfaces of the currently Berlin-based Strunz's subsequent works, the account would seem to give the game away, were it not for the fact that, despite all her formalist leanings, Strunz's appropriations--which reach beyond Smithson to Constructivism and other avant-gardes (to say nothing of her references to a broader history of forms)--are less morphological than conceptual. Or better, her appropriations are morphological to the extent that they thematize and make concrete the inescapability of literal and material precedent. As she pithily explains, "The die has been cast."

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In making her borrowing from art history easy to discern, Strunz activates a recursive structure riddled with the fixed temporality of befores and afters. Heinrich Wolfflin once suggested that "not everything is possible at all times," and Strunz's historicism seems equally axiomatic. It is patent in the case of a text that appears in one of her better-known works on paper, which declaims in no uncertain terms, TODAY IS NOT YESTERDAY. The same sentiment obtains in Time of the Season, 2003, Strunz's droll nod to Marcel Duchamp in the form of a motorized contraption of three oscillating wheels locked in endless circular revolution, shown at Doggerfisher gallery in Edinburgh the year it was made. Other projects have been forthright in their utilization of fragments excavated from prior lives: Boats, smashed glass panes from greenhouses, and abandoned East Berlin swimming pools all figure prominently in her recent collages and early, more representational photo-based works. But in these cases Strunz seems to have poked her own eyes out, disavowing obvious forms of culled representation but retaining an appropriative structure. Most poetic and complex in this vein perhaps is her Visionary Fragment (fur Antoine Augustin Cournot), 2005, a bronze cast of two mutually propped and counterbalanced slivers of an abandoned honeycomb--at once a sly gesture toward Richard Serra's One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969, and an ossified memorial to the long-dead bee colony.

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The ubiquitous living-on of forms in Strunz's work is neither eulogized as so many failed promises nor affirmed as still-wished-for Utopian possibility but instead is maintained equivocally as the support for a continuing practice. As "Whose Garden Was This," the title of Strunz's recent solo show in New York at Gavin Brown's Enterprise makes clear, the artist is still working self-consciously in the condition of an "aftermath," all the while confirming that she's not willing to give up the ghost. History is inescapably present in the urban refuse, discarded timber, scrap metal, and old books she mines and in the already failed--or proleptically failed--garden she tends for a passing season. Yet the New York installation also underscored the fact that Strunz's sculptures are often meticulously ordered when exhibited together--effectively catalogued, with each thing seemingly put in its proper place, even while sympathies across space predominate, reverberating within and gamely articulating it. (The seventeen metal cubes of Black Wind, Fire & Steel, 2006, for example, cascaded and hovered in tight groupings, falling from the ceiling and wandering into corners or coagulating into force fields as if by some unseen magnetism. …

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