Tomma Abts/Tony Conrad: Galerie Daniel Buchholz
Smolik, Noemi, Artforum International
Two concurrent exhibitions at Galerie Daniel Buchholz recently offered an unusual contrast: Large-format paintings by the American artist Tony Conrad were hung in the gallery's old space, while the new one housed small-format paintings by the London-based German artist Tomma Abts. At first glance, the contrast couldn't be greater: Conrad's pictures were created in 1973, Abts's in 2006; the older paintings are the work of a filmmaker and musician, the new ones, of a dedicated painter; his paintings are enormous, hers are always the same modest format, 18 7/8 x 15 inches. Despite these differences, however, the two artists do have one thing in common. Both investigate the common underlying principle of their respective media, film and painting: the principle of illusion.
Film pretends to project ongoing action. In fact, the duration of the action is never accurately reflected; within a few minutes, the illusion can be created that events take place over days or even years. Warhol's film Empire, 1964, attacked this illusion by abjuring it. Conrad took a different approach. In 1973, at Millenium Film Workshop in New York, he presented "World Premiere Exhibition of 20 New Movies," in which he showed not twenty but twenty-three large-format (most 54 x 72") pictures that he called "Yellow Movies." On large sheets of white, purple, or blue wrapping paper that took up almost an entire wall, Conrad painted black outlines of screens; the interior edge of the outlines is neat whereas the exterior is uneven. The inside space of each "screen" was painted with white, off-white, yellow, or brown house paint. In the text accompanying the exhibition, Conrad wrote, "The 'Yellow Movies' were a solution to the problem of how to produce films that could run for a lifetime": The action of these "movies" is the gradual changing of their color as the pigments age. …