Laced: New Paintings by Christina Niederberger
Curated by Dr Joanna Gore: Exhibition 10th Jan – 8th Feb: Private View Friday 9th Jan 6-9 pm
C&C Gallery are proud to present Laced New Paintings by Christina Niederberger. Niederberger juxtaposes formal structures with the use of domestic, ‘kitsch’ and often ‘feminine’ materials, thereby confusing our sense of belonging; exposing and blurring lines of art history, class and gender identity. The new selection of works in ‘Laced’ playfully subverts the techniques and vehicles used as key identifiers in modernist painting whilst we watch a blooming of opposites, antithesis and contradictions be born from the canvas.
Niederberger’s painting does not mimic that which comes before but uses a vast array of stylistic and formal signifiers that reach us on a less than conscious level. Her use of such indicators triggers visual memories while at the same time confuses thought patterns as she deliberately recreates them with new gestures, techniques and palettes to arrive at re-interpretations of those things around us and the stylistic devices of iconic paintings that have gone before. Niederberger however focuses in on opposite traits and aims of her modernist predecessors, often identifying and highlighting elements previously used for ‘background’ or technique, a little like drawing perspective rather than using it to demonstrate distance. For example in her painting based on Picasso’s Still Life with Guitar and Mandolin, instead of using the hard edged geometric lines characteristic of many abstract works, Niederberger has followed those lines with lace and shading, subverting the clean edged colour with a highly domestic and feminine material, thereby highlighting the very signature that makes it abstract. White on White is not focused on geometric dead-pan forms as with Russian Suprematist Kasimir Malevich, in fact it is quite the opposite, white flowers protrude from the surface like the exaggerated texture reminiscent of flowers we find in Victorian crochet. The geometric form becomes obsolete to the point of non-existence, instead we are faced with a highly decorated luxurious ‘randomness’ that remarkably, reminds us of what went before whilst showing us what can come.
Niederberger sits on the edge of change, both celebrating a formulistic masculinity whilst welcoming in a feminine softness that both holds its own in the critical discourse of gender politics and ‘other’ while encompassing the intellectual dialectics of formal painting. A ‘holistic’ and inclusive approach, that challenges without exclusion or criticism, often attempted by others but rarely accomplished, C&C Gallery are proud to present works such as Niederberger’s in their program.
Accompanying text by Paul Carey-Kent
Christina Niederberger has produced a wide range of paintings over the years, and even within this selection of recent work there is considerable variety. That’s because she’s a conceptual painter, whose work is characterised not by a consistent visual look, but by the way she thinks about the relationships between painting, art history and the world. This show ranges from geometric abstraction, to versions of cubist drawings and still lives, to views brought into prominence through an overlaid lace grid, to a white on white floral work. Perhaps the most characteristic move here is to spray through lace as a means of ‘drawing’ – a laborious and painstaking process. There’s something of an irony there, as drawing is traditionally a rapid means of recording minimally mediated impressions, but here it is an arduous revisiting of what was spontaneous.
So if it’s the underlying thought which connects Niederberger’s visual variety, what is the thinking which justifies such effort? These paintings all use lace in some way, but their point is to tease modernist painting. I say ‘tease’ as I wouldn’t say the intent is ironic, nor that it’s quite so biting as to be called satirical. Rather, there’s a tribute to past masters – here Picasso, Mondrian, Malevich and Reinhardt are the obvious precursors, but previous series have channelled Brice Marden and Yves Klein. That tribute, though, is tinged by the awareness that in a later time those original approaches must appear differently. What was ‘modern’ cannot be seen that way now. One could argue that the social context from which art is viewed keeps on changing the perception of all art – to put it another way, we don’t see the same Rembrandt now as an 17th or even 19th century viewer did. That applies more radically, and more rapidly perhaps, to the explicitly developmental agenda of modernism.
Affection is implicit in teasing – those are Niederberger’s masters – making the results more witty than critical, and also slightly absurd. Yet not, I’d say, naïve, as it’s all done in an informed, playful and historically aware way. What kind of teasing is it, then? There are four things going on.
First, the reasons for painting, as well as the resulting looks of the work, are warped. Niederberger deliberately undermines the basis of the modernist paintings she recreates. The essence of Cubist Picasso, for example, is in how actively he observes the world from multiple points of view. Copying the results of that observation is already refusing the underlying way of thinking, is already inauthentic – even before it’s done with lace.
Second, the lace itself carries connotations which are contrary to the high ideals of modernism. Not only is it domestic, it is also explicitly decorative and so normally seen as craft rather than art. That’s a tease, a category error somewhat like taking a serious novel and rewriting it as a Mills and Boon romance.
Third, it’s hard not to notice that the artists teased are all men, and not only is the teaser a woman, but she uses a material traditionally made by women and worn by women to emphasise their femininity. As such, the work is enriched by a feminist aspect, comparable to Sturtevant’s subversive copies of works by canonical male artists.
Fourth, and probably most influentially in Niederberger’s own development, there’s a heavier theoretical underpinning available. She completed a practice-led PhD at Goldsmiths College in 2009, and her written thesis was on kitsch in the realm of art practice. In her words ‘I developed an argument for kitsch that frees it from traditional hierarchies of class and taste and explains it instead as a cultural ‘recycling machine’ and as a marker between the fashionable and the outmoded. With this argument in mind and with a particular focus on Modernism my painting practice deals with a mimetic assimilation and re-interpretation of relevant stylistic devices that are characteristic for modernist painting’. This is in one sense painting as endgame, doomed – albeit with lightness and beauty – to revisiting its own historic themes as kitsch.
So not only does all the work use or feature lace, it’s also laced with theory, variety and wit – and maybe a drop of poison; and it plays with as many moods and associations as lace might conjure, from Miss Havisham’s hauntingly tattered wedding dress to the erotic tight lacing of a corset, from domestic intimacy to voyeuristic peeping. No wonder Niederberger has called the show ‘Laced’.
Born in Switzerland, Christina Niederberger graduated with an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College; University of London in 2002 receiving the Warden’s Prize. In 2009 she was awarded a PhD from Goldsmiths College (title of her written thesis: The Quest for Heimat: discourses on kitsch in the realm of art practice). She has been awarded an A.H.R.B and A.H.R.C award and has been shortlisted twice for the Aeschlimann/Corti Stipendium (Switzerland) and in 2014 for 100 Painters of Tomorrow. She has exhibited widely in Switzerland, London, Germany and the USA. Niederberger’s work has been selected for exhibitions in public galleries such as the Kunstmuseum Thun, Kunsthaus Langenthal, the Kunsthalle in Bern, the Centre Pasqu’Art in Biel and Villa Grisebach in Berlin. Her work is represented in the Government Art Collection, the museum für Medien und Kommunikation, Bern, Inselspital Bern and the Hoffmann-La-Roche Collection as well as in private collections in the U.K., U.S., Switzerland and Canada.
Paul Carey-Kent is a freelance art writer and curator based in Southampton. He writes regularly for eight publications, including Art Monthly and The Art Newspaper, and has a weekly column at fadwebsite.com. You can see his current choice of ten London shows to see at paulsartworld.blogspot.com. Paul co-curated It’s About Time (ASC Gallery, 2013) with Christina Niederberger, and is currently curating The Presence of Absence, which will run 30 Jan – 14 March at the Berloni Gallery in Fitzrovia. By day, he works in health and social care finance.