Fresh Paint is five person group show investigating architecture by way of reducing or exaggerating architectural space, depicting contrived interiors or exteriors. The press release reveals that “Some of these settings are fictionalized, others completely devoid of narrative. They are, in effect, non-space and the ‘every-place’ at the same time.” Lehmann Maupin is a perfect space to conduct such an investigation as the famed architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas designed the gallery. The primary question the show urges the viewer to ask is: What are its ethics and how are we to live with it? In essence, what are we to do with architecture?
Christian Hellmich’s paintings dominate the exhibition primarily because they are the most overtly architectural. All three of his paintings present unpopulated exteriors that have no obvious purpose. His works incite viewers to ask the question: What happens to architecture in the absence of people, and thus in the absence of ethics? At a more formal level, theorist Jens Schröter, in an essay about Hellmich’s work, writes that the “frames and grids in Hellmich’s works—paneled and/or gridded windows, echeloned balconies, striped deck chairs, and especially the dull windows blocking a voyeuristic gaze into depth—allude to the flatness of the pictorial plane.” Schröter remarks that Hellmich’s style calls “to memory a past world.” This past world was perhaps one in which we knew what to do with architecture. But if the architectural subject matter in Hellmich’s paintings alludes to the pictorial plane then we must ask not only what we need in architecture, but also what we need in paintings.
David Deutsch’s paintings attempt to show what we need from paintings by abstracting the ugly everyday. “Trucks” abstracts a truck depo while “Blue Smoke” abstracts tract houses and cars. Deutsch pulls architectural features out of focus and transports them onto the canvas. These are inhabited spaces from which the viewer is removed. Thus, the audience is still forced to ask the question: what is it that we need in architecture? However, it might turn out that it is not possible to successfully abstract architecture, for it is essentially (and not accidentally) concrete.
Fabien Rigobert’s single-channel videos “Topanga Ground” and “South Flower 2” are the only non-painting inclusions in the show. These intriguing videos consist mainly of still videos slowly morphing. His works are videos as paintings, an underexploited medium. In “Topanga Ground,” Rigobert creates a rather trashy outdoor living room, complete with fire, and allows his subjects to barely move, but to barely move freely and morph with the scenery. It is radically unclear how the audience should approach such works. Should they sit and watch “Topanga Ground” in its 2 minute 24 second entirety or is it sufficient for the audience to look at the work for as long as they are engaged? The questions Rigobert’s works offers architecture are: Can we move within a building? Or are we static within its static walls?
Angela Defresne’s works, which use architecture as a set piece, leave an appropriate amount of narrative amusement. Her paintings offer a bit of gossipy fun encouragement in the midst of a thoughtful show. But, of course, her paintings are critical as well. They investigate how we create and invoke narratives of space and ask what we read off architectural surfaces.
In “Me and Bruce Lee and another famous yet un-nameable man on the shore in front of an unmade building designed by Frank Llyod Zrigth called Donahue Triptych” Defresne’s narratives effectively oppose and confuse each other. The subject of the painting is an opulent coastal series of three buildings on the edge of a cliff that looks to be Northern California. The variety of pop cultural references—Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruce Lee, the gossipy insistence on celebrity—combined with the postmodern rhetorical strategy of claiming that the painter is in front of an unmade building, are dizzying and full of personality. The character of Defresne’s buildings can be effectively opposed with the anonymity of Hellmich’s spaces as possible answers to the questions posed in the Fresh Paint.
The diversity of works in the show exemplifies the variety of ways we might think about architecture and the built environment more generally. Conceivably this diversity is all that paintings can show us. Perhaps if we need a more overarching schema we must turn elsewhere. It is clear that although Fresh Paint is comfortable asking a great many important questions, it does not have the means to answer them. But maybe these are not questions that paintings themselves can answer on their own; philosophers and other theorists must help us figure out what to do with architecture. —Francis Raven