Artspace, Sydney, Australia
‘Superposition’ is a term used in quantum theory to describe how objects can simultaneously exist in multiple states that are individually indistinguishable until they are measured. This concept forms the basis of curators Talia Linz’s and Alexie Glass-Kantor’s rationale for the exhibition ‘Superposition of three types’, which focuses on abstraction in the work of 13 Australian artists, with ‘three “types” of artistic practice explored in parallel’. Precisely what is meant by ‘types’ here is ambiguous but the exhibition includes some lively, colourful works spanning painting, performance, sound, sculpture and text.
Rebecca Baumann’s Colour Scenario # 3 (all works 2017 unless otherwise stated) set the exhibition’s backdrop: the curators invited the artist to paint the walls of the entire gallery, which she did in mass-produced colour to create partitions of dark-blue, yellow, black, red, pink and green. This works particularly well with Huseyin Sami’s Painting Performance (with improvised brush), for which the artist painted a wall-mounted canvas with an absurd, four-metre long makeshift brush, leaving behind a trail of stuttered light-pink strokes on the canvas and the surrounding turquoise wall. Other works by Sami are also highlights, including Colour Wire Hang # 1 and Colour Wire hang # 2 – informal circular wire constructions with fragile skins of paint draped and stretched on them – which epitomize the artist’s framing of painting-as-process and his honed, awkward-yet-elegant, aesthetic.
Elsewhere in the space, Baumann’s colours are overwhelming. They play havoc with Brendan Van Hek’s wall-mounted neon-light sculptures, field works (lemon/yellow/aquamarine), and distract from Ry David Bradley’s subtle pink textile prints Autopaint I and Autopaint II, whose blurred digital imagery and sleazy velvety surfaces echo the exhausted retromania of much post-Internet art. Laura Merrett responded to the imposing wall colours by confronting them head-on: her installation Time after time (compendium of gestures) comprises swathes of painted fabric which she has folded, draped and strewn across the gallery floor. Conceived on-site, Merrett’s work resembles a heavier, more opaque, version of Katharina Grosse’s intoxicating spray-installations.
Gemma Smith and Nike Savvas are two of Australia’s most skilled colourists. Although very different, their works shoot for boldness and pleasure while retaining an air of casual intelligence. Smith’s Deep Air comprises a delicate double-sided gestural painting on Perspex hung from the ceiling, while Savvas’s Police and Thieves – a shimmering eight-metre-long floor-to-ceiling corridor made from coloured plastic strips – recalls Bruce Nauman’s corridor pieces of the 1960s and ’70s.
The exhibition’s focus on ‘13 living artists’ sadly became ‘12 living artists’ after the death of Sydney Ball a month after the opening. Born in 1933, Ball had a sizeable impact on the genealogy of Australian abstraction, exhibiting in such canonical exhibitions as ‘The Field’ (1968) at the National Gallery of Victoria and rarely faltering thereafter. Chromix Lumina #12 (2016) is a large square composed of six pastel-coloured diagonal aluminium panels placed on the gallery floor. Undoubtedly one of the best pieces in the exhibition, it’s Ball’s last work and serves as a fitting end to his career, emanating the energy of a much younger artist.
Bursting with successful (and some not so) clashes and collaborations between works, ‘Superposition of three types’ has something surprisingly unique to say for an exhibition exploring the well-worn subject of abstract art. Emphasizing the materiality and interconnectedness of colour, the concept of the gesamtkunstwerk might not have been named, yet it made its presence felt. For the curators, the ‘total work of art’ was arrived at not by way of Wassily Kandinsky and his modernist forebears but by way of quantum mechanics. Although dubious, the quantum shtick does, in fact, do justice to the exhibition’s oddly morphological character, with viewers simultaneously experiencing, rather than focusing on, colour, in many of its temporal, bodily, sensorial and conceptual manifestations.
Lead image: 'Superposition of three types', 2017, installation view. Courtesy: Artspace, Sydney; photograph: Jessica Maurer