Art in America, July 1991, Vol. 79, N° 7, p. 129
by Wade Saunders & Anne Rochette —
Paris seems poised to become the commercial center for contemporary art in Europe, with nearly double the galleries of any rival city. Karsten Greve from Cologne and Thaddaeus Ropac from Salzburg have recently opened impressive spaces here, on a par with the new spaces of Ghislaine Hussenot, Yvon Lambert, Adrian Maeght and Renos Xippas. While for the moment French artists, women especially, figure little in the programs of many of these adventuresome galleries, it’s unclear whether this situation will soon change.
In design Paris galleries are closer to those of Los Angeles than New York, often situated at street level and having abundant natural light; but they are more architecturally distinct than their American counterparts, offering real opportunities for installational play. At Ropac, for instance, you enter through a very long foyer, step up into a shallow exhibition space with a vaulted concrete and glass ceiling and finally step up again to enter the large main gallery, with its high, mostly glass roof.
Having inaugurated his space with an up-to-date exhibition of young Americans, followed by one of Saint Clair Cemin, Ropac continued with Walter Obholzer, a 37-year-old Viennese painter. (Obholzer had also been included in “Carnet de Voyage,” at the Fondation Cartier, with 15 other young European artists—all male.) Three recent paintings were in the smaller room: Albert centered on the left wall, Georg on the right, an untitled work on a partition installed to cut off visual access to the large space. All measured 53 by 39 by 3 inches and were done in tempera on aluminum. On second look Albert and Georg turned out to be the same image, flipped right for left, each behaving alternately as original and as mirror to the other. In both pictures a warm, fleshy orange field stretched over the surface, stopping a few inches short of the top and bottom edges while wrapping partway around the sides; the orange was punctuated by a regular diagonal grid of small white dots, each surrounded by a darker orange aureole. The paintings felt soft, like the tuck-and-roll upholstery they suggested. The untitled work, with its pastel motif of spindly flowering vines over a lattice, hovered much like a window, sweet and vacuous. The pattern again stopped short of top and bottom. Inevitably, the three pictures read as an ensemble, linked by their shared format, gridded structure and shallow space.
In the second room, Obholzer hung nine pieces from his “Vertical Panoramas” series, begun in 1985 and characterized by the tall and narrow proportions (104 by 11 inches) of its format. Painted in pearly washes on thin aluminum sheets, each work looked like a rendition of an ornamental motif lifted from a specific architectural site, and most were titled with the first name of a historical figure. These panels were affixed directly to the wall and framed afterwards by simple plaster moldings, so that the painted surfaces read as continuous with the wall. In previous shows, the “Vertical Panoramas” often seemed propelled somewhat fancifully by the ornamental details of the spaces in which they were installed; at Ropac, Obholzer instead contrasted their nostalgic preciosity with a spare sense of placement, using the coordinates given by the roof trusses and the seam lines in the floor to locate the panels.
The individual pieces here were of less interest than the whole, save for Vertical Panorama, gefullt, in which 10 same-sized rings, each painted half red and half blue, were stacked atop one another within the tight vertical format. Red and blue were reversed in each succeeding ring, and the rings read as alternately sagging left and right. For once, color had a dynamic of its own, undermining the stiffness of the format, and, atypically, the motif felt self-contained rather than edited out of a larger expanse.
This show, then, presented Obholzer as working two distinct modes: in one, ornament, lifted out of its specific architectural and historical context, provided a fancy conceptual structure; in the other, a tighter compositional geometry, without recognizable source, opened up the pictures, allowing them to be looked at as more independent and portable works.