Stefanie Ullmann

peaches N cream

26.05 – 13.07.2018

four1peaches N cream, 2018, installation view

 

installation1peaches N cream, 2018, installation view

 

diagonalback11peaches N cream, 2018, installation view

 

betteryellow1o.T. 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

 

betterorange1o.T. 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

 

bettergreen1o.T. 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

 

betterpurple1o.T. 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm

 

watercolor1o.T. (series of watercolours on paper) 2017-8, watercolour on paper 32 x 24 cm

 

peach1o.T. 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 35 x 35 cm

 

Stefanie Ullmann’s paintings have always been minimal. Even at their most overworked, there was never much to see in or on her small to medium sized canvases. A rather distressed looking surface perhaps, a few meandering brushstrokes, some lines or a couple of smudges. Muted colours. For this exhibition, she has made four larger canvases, brighter and larger than her previous work perhaps, but equally paired down, consisting of a few random marks on pastel coloured ground. A quiet ‘no’ cries out from each individual frame, which is a distant echo of Minimalism’s earlier, much more stark and vehement ‘no’ to values associated with Abstract Expressionism: transcendence, heroism, anguish, ego and preciousness. If Robert Morris used a chainsaw to slice out his rejection of anything that might distract the viewer from the here and now, Ullmann uses the slightest of gestures to question what is the ‘just enough’ for a painting.  A canvas for instance, would seem about right, but brushes are something that could easily be dispensed with. Much of the painting at the exhibition is made directly by squeezing a tube of paint onto unprimed canvas. One squeeze is sufficient for one mark.

Similarly to other minimalist artists, Ullmann directs her ‘no’ against artistic intentionality, the external motivation of a rational type, an idea existing prior to the making of the work which nevertheless dictates its final form and meaning from within. This is why there are no vestiges of illusion in her paintings and no gestures towards representation, and why, unlike many of her contemporaries she does not work between abstraction and figuration. Instead she utilises strategies that do away with intentionality altogether: by reducing the number of elements in her paintings, by rejecting the hierarchies between the component parts, sometimes by painting with her eyes closed and leaving things unfinished. And yet she never quite resorts to the complete impersonalisation of many anti-authorial practices. The personal remains important, her way of navigating what is deliberate and what is not.

The deliberate and the accidental – as with minimalism what we see is what we get.  Here it is a number of marks on a peach and cream background. But this does not cause us to turn away from the canvas to investigate the work’s surroundings and their function within a larger space. The work does not depend on the moving spectator’s visual trajectory in that way. It is not, in Michael Fried’s sense of the term, theatrical, analogous to an actor producing effects on us the audience in real time. The here and now of Ullmann’s paintings always draws us closer. There may be little present in the work, but what is there draws us in, before saying stop, it is enough, now you can go no further. What is there keeps us hovering at the surface of painting, neither allowing us, as a beholder to forget ourselves by entering a state of transcendence nor to move away to engage with the work’s surroundings. With her work, we are always caught between one pole and the other. Between presentness and presence lies their state of grace.

Magdalena Wisniowska 2018

Opening speech to Abstract Pleasures

Hello and welcome to GiG Munich’s autumn exhibition coinciding with the Open Art Weekend 2016, ‘Abstract Pleasures,’ featuring new site specific sculptural work by Kathrin Partelli and a selection from the photographic series, Sleeping Beauties, by Thomas Wieland. Those of you who have visited us before, may know that in my introductions I do not give a standard biography of the artist, whose work GiG Munich is showing. Instead, I would like to talk a little about the title, ‘Abstract Pleasures’ and my reasons for bringing these two very different artists, sculpture and photography together.

Let us turn to the second part of the title – pleasure – first. That the show has something to do with pleasure is immediately apparent from Thomas Wieland’s photos, which take the fairground rides of the annual Oktoberfest as a theme. Although the Oktoberfest marks the celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the idea of the amusement park with fairground rides developed from the original pleasure gardens of the 18th century. Open to the public, these served as early venues of entertainment for the masses.

On the other hand, the first part of the title – abstract – seems to refer more to the work of Kathrin Partelli. Formal in quality, with a strong physical aspect her sculpture belongs to a minimalist tradition, rejecting composition and figuration for the disjunctive and the abstract. We can distinguish certain basic materials (metal, plaster and wood, wax and rubber) and certain basic mathematical shapes (lines, curves, quadrilaterals). Physical forces, such as stretching, pulling, and bending under gravity are at work. No element of construction is hidden; everything is laid out in a straightforward manner.

Yet equally, there is an abstract quality to Wieland’s photography. The very things which let us focus on the fairground rides – the fact that the images are unpopulated, that each ride is photographed separately from a standard distance, the neutral light, the depth of field and the cropping – also renders the image flat. The rides look more like a collage than a physical object, the various elements, bright colours, lights, slogans, placed next to each other without forming a coherent whole.

And similarly there is a pleasureable quality found in Kathrin Partelli’s work, a kind of humor, in common with the appropriation and the subversion of minimalist vocabulary by feminist and art povera artists. Her squares are wonky, the pieces of elastic might suddenly snap, the curved piece of plaster rests precariously on a gypsum board about to break.

Work that is about pleasure yet abstract, work that is abstract yet pleasureable – this is certainly one interpretation of the title. Nevertheless, ‘Abstract Pleasures’, refers to more. As mentioned in the brief text, which accompanied the invitation, it is also a matter of aesthetics. The pleasure of contemplation is associated with the appreciation of the beautiful object. First identified by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, this kind of pleasure has less to do with the object per se (indeed, Kant stresses that there can be no beautiful object), and more with the experience the human subject has when faced with beauty. Pleasure arises from the way our mind is engaged with the object of beauty. It is occupied with the object; it thinks about the object – and yet, despite all its efforts it cannot come to any conclusion other than, this object is beautiful.

If we now look at the work, we can see that, in both cases, it draws our attention. The photos rendered flat, allow our gaze to wonder, from slogan to paintwork, from light to colour. Similarly, the level of detail in Kathrin Partelli’s work belies its simple origins. There is a logic to her objects. No material is used more than once; the objects go from light to dark and from hard to soft; a curve in lead on the floor is repeated with a curve of rubber; what seems like a black stick is actually a drawing. We are occupied discerning these details, but as said, these objects allow no further conclusions to be drawn. Instead, they bring attention to the act of contemplation itself.

This is important, because historically speaking very few artworks engage with the pleasures of contemplation. Minimalism, art povera, or feminist art are more concerned with expanding the notion of the artwork. Indeed, it is rare that in everyday life we consider the joys of contemplation. Referring to Thomas Wieland’s photos: we are too busy spinning around half-drunk on the Oktoberfest rides to be thinking about their structures.

And all of this to what end? The pleasures of contemplation alert us to a basic relation, the fact we do have a relation to the outside world. That we can look at an object and recognize it as an object – that we think about the object and draw conclusions – this should be a source of wonder. I hope, that in a small way, this wonder is celebrated by the artwork featuring in this exhibition.

Magdalena Wisniowska, 2016