Hauser & Wirth just opened three major exhibitions in their Downtown LA space: “White Noise,” the first LA solo exhibition of the Mexican-German artist Stefan Brüggemann; Nonmemory a show curated by Jay Ezra Nayssan in collaboration with the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, and ‘Aggressive Dr1fter,’ filmmaker Harmony Korine’s debut solo exhibition for Hauser & Wirth.
Regarding all three of these exhibitions, if you were to just walk off the street and see the artworks, without benefit of reading the gallery’s press release or materials, you might not fully appreciate what you are seeing. Or put another way: Attending the press preview and hearing the artists and curators talk about the work really opened my eyes, and changed how I thought about the work.
Stefan Brüggemann is a prime example: His works presents as graffiti sprayed on graffiti without, at first glance, the words carrying any special meaning or meaning; and without the design of the graffiti appearing particularly artful.
What you might think upon first seeing Brüggemann’s work is: This is nothing new. I’ve seen graffiti art before and I liked the other work better. However, as I learned from Brüggemann at the press preview and in a conversation following the show, he is, above all, a conceptual artist. His work attempts to replace figuration with text, and to have that text be as gestural as painting. He creates abstract works of words. And once you know that how you look at the work changes completely.
The exhibition is called White Noise, which one might take as a literary reference to Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name, and it is but it is also a reference to the whole concept of ‘white noise” which are sounds meant to block out other distractions – and thus, also applies to Brüggemann’s work which also attempts to block out traditional distractions of Art and painting. As Brüggemann explained at the press preview his work sits at “the border between messaging and abstraction.”
In this way, Brüggemann can be compared to Jenny Holzer. Like Holzer, Brüggemann is often not the author of the words in his work. He has experimented with AI generation of text, and he has created series of paintings based on the last lines of movies, and/or from newspaper headlines. However, unlike Holzer, Brüggemann is decidedly not political. Which does not mean that his work is not provocative. It is.
One of the first works one sees in the exhibition, made in August specially for the exhibition is: Headlines and Last Lines in Movies (Writer’s Strike), against a silver leafed canvases are phrases taken from headlines about the Writer’s Strike overlaying and overlayed by last lines from famous and beloved movies. Brüggemann is investigating, he explained, “the fiction of film and the fiction of media and how this all creates abstractions.”
This work is surrounded by paintings from his 2021 series, ERODED PAINTING which incorporates headlines about climate change spray painted on mounted marble panels.
In the next room, there is a grid hanging from the ceiling with red, white, and blue neon that says “TRUTH” on one side, and “LIE” on the other but is programmed to become increasingly difficult to read – much as it has become increasingly difficult to separate truth form lies, or a world in which lies are regularly presented as truth. There is audio in this room of Jonathan Debin reading a text by Mexican writer Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez that only increases the confusion. Around the room on its walls are paintings from Brüggemann’s series The Final Mess, which were created, a painting a day, in the eight days leading up to the inauguration of President Biden.
Then, one passes into the final room, that seemed to be the largest. Against a read wall are ten paintings painted in 2022. Brüggemann has made digital images of details from his 2018 series HI SPEED CONTRAST, and printed them in such a way that the pixelation of images almost looks like a surface made of fabric, on top of which there are layers of gold text and spray pain. His intention, Brüggemann explained, is to “challenge the idea of contemporary surface.”
These works also make one think of Jenny Holzer but the conceptual nature of Brüggemann’s work is messy, not neat – and as such invites more questions about Art, painting, photography, and even Brüggemann’s work than it provides answers – which is what he is going for. As Brüggemann famously wrote 20 years ago, in a phrase that repeats in his new work, “To be political, it has to look nice.”
When you play a White Noise machine what happens is that at first you hear its sound, and then slowly you don’t hear it or anything else – and with Brüggemann’s work what you see at first is the distraction, and then slowly, with understanding, what see is the Art.