17 May – 22 Jun 2008


Elizabeth Cooper, Leo de Goede, Terry Haggerty, Jasmine Justice, Iris Kensmil, Bertold Mathes, Klaus Merkel, Sonia Rijnhout, Gary Stephan

The novel Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (which should really be read by anyone with an interest in art) is, among other things, an exposé on the fundamentals of music. The monologues of the principal character, composer Adrian Leverkuhn, frequently fill multiple pages.

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In one of these passages he talks of the importance of the naive, the simple, and argues that composers and musicians must constantly revisit the most fundamental principles of music. That they should always allow the scale, the triad and the interval to speak for themselves; and be content with that. He also asserts that, even in the most complex music, these basic principles should “be remain present, unchanged”. The power of music lies in celebrating its means.

That music is the most abstract of the arts had already been pointed up by a great many others. In its most complicated forms, instrumental music is never anything but an audible syntax: a system of laws and their interaction. The distinction between content and form is, therefore, straightforward in music: the text, the narrative, is the content. The music is formal: it consists of abstract relations that directly touch on the life of human emotion.

In 20th century visual arts, this process was far more convoluted. The rigor and autonomous value of colour and form became a domain in which, compared to any possibly narrative content, there was little theory or instruction save for a handful of attempts (Goethe, Klee, Albers, Judd). The syntax of visual art is implicit and personal. The evolution of abstract art led to a courageous yet hopeless intellectual exercise in endeavouring to instil it with meaning.

One way or another, both artists and art historians could not accept that abstract art had no meaning. Even after over a century of explicitly abstract art, the search to pin down the underlying meaning and content behind the works is unending. This spawns dry art theory and inarticulate artists. Let’s stop right there. Abstract painting is a game and it’s a game in which man is most himself. Of course, this doesn’t mean that abstract art offers neither prompts nor references. The reverse is true: everything always originates somewhere.

The artist can speak freely of these sources without needing to think that they make up the content of the work. The viewer also has associations that link the painting with other personal perceptions and experiences. Once a painting is complete, the artist’s and the viewer’s inspirations and associations are equally matched.  

The murals and paintings in this exhibition have been placed in a relationship to each other so as to underline their connections and commonalities. It’s not so much about the individual positions of the artists, but about an all-embracing feast for the senses. Colour interacts with colour; harmonious and discordant relationships spring up. There is rhythm, measure, tonality and materiality; loci, boundaries and transitions. The game is a kind of animism. It is a domain within which different factors come to life and interact. Everyone knows that the game only exists for those who play it. There are no compelling reasons to paint or to look at painting. Artists and art lovers are people who take seriously those things that others simply overlook. That is freedom.