JOHN, Peep-Hole, Milan, 2013
On Thursday, 14 February, Peep-Hole is inaugurating its new venue at the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia with the first solo show at an Italian institution by the American artist John Henderson.
Through a stratified and detailed analysis of painterly language and its critical traditions, John Henderson condenses the history of recent abstract and minimal painting. Using media extraneous to painting, such as video, sculpture and photography, the artist creates works that often confuse the space between artwork and object, serial production and the one-off piece.
In Henderson’s work, the painterly gesture often relates dialogically with the serial nature of industrial production, most prominently through the recurrent practice of casting his paintings in metal. After being reproduced in bronze, brass and aluminum, the artist’s original paintings are destroyed, leaving a trace of themselves in metal replicas, which remain as a sort of documentation and sculptural surrogate of the originals. The outcome is works with a powerful conceptual dimension alongside evident formal sensitivity – they interpret painting as an open field of investigation rather than a resolved individual expression.
Thee dialectical nature of Henderson’s work is also central to the exhibition project for Peep-Hole, conceived as a sort of representation of the “divide” between immediacy and suspension, proximity and distance, originality and reproducibility. Even the title JOHN – half of the artist’s name – refers to the dichotomy that cadences the entire exhibition, constructed in close relation to the architectural space and giving the various works on display the task of accentuating symmetry and discontinuity.
The exhibition begins with a video, No title, which documents the artist’s cold and aloof destruction of three of the cast-metal paintings inside his studio. The video can be understood as a lens for the entire project. In the video, each casting is struck until it splits in two. By capturing the gesture of shattering what should be the final result of the creative process, the video emphasizes the digressive attitude of Henderson’s practice, expanding the relationship with the work and making it more complex.
A new series of cast-metal paintings on view reiterate the fragmentation presented in the video. Henderson has described this series as “hybrid”, as each work is composed from two different materials, half in bronze and half in brass. The two parts are then joined to form a single surface, like reassembling the lost unit of the initial painting. The vertical and central seam – where the two halves join – alludes to the symmetry of the space and also quietly reference precedents like Barnett Newman’s famous “zips”. With the Hybrids Henderson consciously places emphasis on the “contrived” nature and material labor involved in their production process.
This series is counterpointed by a cycle of oil paintings and a series of photographs that complete the linguistic and formal plurality of the exhibition. Thee oil paintings, with their attentive compositions, virtuous brushwork and varied coloring, pose a sharp contrast with the metal surrogates of the paintings, on the one hand, and with the photographs (Flowers), on the other. While the latter – photographs of painted-over photographs – develop painterly expression through the distance imparted by a technological medium, the oil paintings present an accumulation of gestures using the traditional materials of painting.
A revisited version of the Recasts series concludes the exhibition. These groups of painted panels echo the metallic surface of the castings as if they were forged versions of these works. The series is presented here for the first time as a freestanding structure. Arranged in narrow vertical grids, the individual paintings begin to lose their “specificity” and uniqueness, approaching sculptural seriality and a rigid minimalist organization. Thee way in which the Recasts divide the space and its verticality indirectly refer to the “split” nature of the Hybrids and, more directly, to the central and vertical seam line that characterizes them. Lastly, the juxtaposition of the Recasts with a photograph from the Flowers series installed on their backside again proposes a “duality” that makes this work a synthesis of the entire exhibition itinerary.
John Henderson (born in Minneapolis in 1984; lives and works in Chicago) earned his degree in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. His most recent solo shows include He’s an interesting thinker, Galerie Perrotin Hong Kong, 2013; The man I wanted to marry before I found out about sex, Galleria T293, Naples, 2011; 12 x 12: John Henderson, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2011.
Peep-Hole would like to thank T293 Gallery, Rome/Naples.