The enigmatic numbered works of ‘Raum#350-Lystre’ (all 2018) typify Lone Haugaard Madsen’s sense of humour. The artist says that she thinks of herself as a sculptor, but the space is dominated by four dramatic abstract paintings. During a recent conversation at Sophie Tappeiner gallery, Haugaard Madsen said that she actively encourages viewers to offer ‘extreme’ readings of her works invoking their sublimity, but also avoids interpreting them.
This is not false modesty; it is part of a strategy of ‘restraining the works’ seriousness’, as she terms it. This sense of restrained pathos is especially clear in the simply titled paintings, of which 10 and 14 are almost monochromes: Haugaard Madsen does not fully cover the canvas in paint, leaving an unfinished space in the top-right corner. The paintings’ raw, unfinished look stems, in part, from her working process and the constraints she places on it. When asked about her methods, she explains that, at first, she paints in landscape mode, scrubbing the surface with rags and sponges to produce an internally differentiated matte texture. This creates space in areas she is not tall enough to reach when she sets the canvas upright again, such as in the borderland between the black topcoat and white ground in painting 14.
This elusive approach extends to Haugaard Madsen’s use of colour, too. 1 and 9, at opposite ends of the ante-room behind the gallery’s divided wall, complement each other stylistically, inverting the colour scheme of other paintings, with grey-blue and black and grey-white and black forms on a white background. 1, placed above the stairs, almost out of sight of the main gallery space, has a peculiar elegance. It’s like an imaginary map of an uncharted snowy ocean, with one lonely dot of black swimming in a sea of white. 9 is livelier: a vertical black stripe meets a horizontally painted white splotch in the middle, imprisoned by thin, black, vertical lines.
Haugaard Madsen refuses to resolve the relationship between her paintings and sculptures – some works even contain both. 10 is an assemblage of two huge monochromes, a steel bar topped with a multicoloured rag and an aluminium cast of packing material hanging on the wall. One black and white painting leans against the wall in the foreground, partially concealing a matte black picture hanging behind it. The awkward grubby space at the top of the foregrounded painting replaces the hidden third of the smoother piece behind; the steel pole stands between them. This intricate blend of ambitious scale and understated textures, austere tone and bold gestures, makes ‘Raum#350-Lystre’ very satisfying, though nothing is ever settled.
There is, however, a subtle link between the two sides of Haugaard Madsen’s work: her interest in theatre and stage design. She even uses materials from a theatre backdrop that was left by a stage design company. 3 is a pair of working trousers rendered in plaster, set on a plywood plinth with tissue paper hastily glued to it, like an amusing arte povera version of a neo-classical marble sculpture. Its crumpled shape is reflected in 13: a furrowed cloud of textile, standing next to a black wooden palette with Styro-foam layers beneath the surface. 13 is less visually striking than the paintings, but exemplifies the concept behind Haugaard Madsen’s approach: the textile looks like a stage curtain, the palette a miniature stage, scenography in storage waiting for actors who will never arrive.
I was surprised to learn that, though Haugaard Madsen has lived and worked in Vienna for 17 years, the brilliant ‘Raum#350-Lystre’ is her first solo show here. This says more about the insularity of Vienna’s artistic scene than the artist’s abilities, whether as a sculptor working with complex textures or a painter in the most expanded field.
Lone Haugaard Madsen: ‘Raum#350-Lystre’ was on view at Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna from 15 May until 14 July 2018.
Main image: Lone Haugaard Madsen, Raum#350-Lystre-12 (detail), 2018, styrofoam, fibreglass, textile, iron, wood (remains of stage design production company), dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna; photograph: © Kunst-dokumentation
First published in Issue 197