Andreas Schulz: Looking and Listening

Sprüth Magers, London, 28 June – 17 August 2013

By Martin Herbert

Andreas Schulze, Untitled (Bett am Meer) 2013, acrylic  on passepartout cardboard, 80 x 172cm. Photo: Mareike Tocha. © the artist/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers, Berlin & London

Andreas Schulze is at that comfortable or perhaps ticklish point where his gallery, in receipt of fresh creations, can repeat things they wrote about his last show in London, back in 2009. His new domestic sculptures, just like the earlier ones, ‘tap into a vein of Schulze’s practice that is replete with, and almost fetishises, bourgeois décor and ornamentation, which is symptomatic of Schulze’s fascination with modern yearnings for contentment’. One might extrapolate that nobody’s working up a substantial sweat here. (Note, too, how painstakingly neutral that language is.) Yet if Schulze makes slow progress, bear in mind that his way of going forward involves a lot of going backward. 

Here his decorous landscapes and seascapes have, at once, a surrealist tilt and a decorous sociability

Facing each other on smooth columnar plinths before a jolly mustard-coloured wall are a pair of ceramic representations of the artist’s head, wearing glasses and a half-smile. The top of each skull neatly ablated, they’re filled with soil and houseplants. One of these works appeared in Schulze’s 2012 show at Team, in New York, where it was part of a more explicitly environmental scenario in which Schulze hand painted the floor, laid out chairs, hung curtains, etc: the full Bauhaus soup-to-nuts ideal. Here, the self-portrait feels like a sweet travestying of the idea of the artist as fecundity incarnate, blooming with ideas, but also a would-be bridge to earlier times when modern artists were genuinely seen as heroic. Schulze, born in 1955 and coming of age on the cusp of the postmodern, seemingly doesn’t lack for sentiment about modernity while being able to keep his emotions pretty much in check. And that temperamental mix is even more apparent from the acrylic-on-cardboard paintings that are this show’s primary bequest.

Schulze made them after visiting Sicily, pilgrimaging across Europe as the Old Masters used to do. His mode of execution, however, is a tad more recent: Schulze has long carried a torch for de Chirico, while his avuncular simplifications of form and colour reference Léger in particular. Here his decorous landscapes and seascapes have, at once, a surrealist tilt and a decorous sociability. In Untitled (Bett am Meer), 2013, as with many works here, it’s hard to tell whether the action is transpiring at the bottom of the sea, or on the shore: the view in this case is half-blocked by a brown L-shaped form that might be a bed, or something on the seabed. Smooth recumbent rocks rise above it, topped by pointy forms that might be waves (as they appear to be in the rain- and snow-strafed seascape Looking and Listening, (2013) or mountains or undersea flora, and affectless circlets that might be clouds or bubbles. The whole thing, meanwhile, pitches itself between asking to be looked at and situating itself as colourful, unthreatening background.

Choose to look and it’ll please with house- broken weirdness, but then keep going and it starts to look ghostly, a persistence whose own irrationality feels fitting. So it’s a sly conceptual egress Schulze is occupying, evidently. He can keep painting this way, and as the times adjust around it – as, say, revisiting Modernism becomes an issue and then a nonissue, or art crossing into decor flits in and out of vogue, or as Surrealism is rehabilitated – so will perceptions change too, ideally refreshing an art which meanwhile gets to look convincingly detached from intellectual fashions. If Schulze is in no rush to shred his own playbook, it’s hardly surprising.

This review originally appeared in the September 2013 issue.