Writing Art History Since 2002

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Dorothee Kreutzfeldt I The Premises I Johannesburg

Dorothee Kreutzfeldt spent three weeks painting No Condition Is Permanent directly onto The Premises’s walls. Then, after the completed works had been shown for another three weeks, she spent the last week of the exhibition white-washing the walls. “It will slowly appear and then disappear, turning the gallery into wallpaper or a screen that attempts to foretell or capture what already exists,” she predicted in her press release.Allegedly drawing her inspiration from Johannesburg’s “impermanence”, and more pointedly its commercial signs, the latter creating “shifting urban surfaces”, her work had that trendy urban feel to it. It didn’t seem to distinctly point to Jozi either. There was none of that gritty murkiness and emphasis on contrasts that one usually sees in depictions of the city. Instead, Kreutzfeldt presented a vibrant Johannesburg, a slick, if muddled, machine of “high and low networks of commerce and trade”.Fragmented imagery, immense bits of lettering, changes in perspective, bright colours and sweeping jagged lines gave the finished work an urgency and sense of movement. Incorporating elements of graffiti and signboard design Kreutzfeldt often left traces of her measurement marks visible, sometimes even accentuating them.Recalling Piet Mondrian’s palette – primary red, yellow, blue, grey, black, white – and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book panels, the finished installation had a modernist, brightly idealistic surface feel. Except that, having drawn her imagery from five years of research in Johannesburg, it is this very surface that she stresses in her reinterpretation. The words on the faux-signboards point to nothing (painter, crown city, R10) and sell nothing. Before and after the paint there is just a white wall.The overall effect created looked a bit like the current perky-punk trend in T-shirt design. Fashion is not a bad place to look. It is an industry based on impermanence. Of course, the real rigour of the exhibition’s impermanence was in Kreutzfeldt’s massive erasing act. Possibly it was counter-intuitive to roll the white paint over her creative labour, possibly she was passionately convinced of the conceptual power of the act. It is simultaneously a brave and inevitable act. What was she going to do but paint over the work? If not her them someone else employed by the gallery.By painting over her own art, she brings her critique of advertising, social conditions and economic pressures right into the gallery space, turning the gaze to the art world. The seasonal trends and aesthetic whims of artists, galleries, curators, viewers and reviewers – you will never know if I am telling the truth in this review – are forced to be just that, temporal. Without the art object and a monetary value, the work has no material vessel, except in the viewer, who is also impermanent. Despite this ambiguity and paradox, the work lingers nonetheless.

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