The Heart, the Mind, or Somewhere in Between: On Detlef E. Aderhold’s “Null Komma Null”
Detlef E. Aderhold: Null Komma Null at Rogue Space Chelsea
November 11 through November 17, 2014
508 West 26th Street, 9F (between 10th and 11th avenues)
New York, 212 751 2210
“Nothing is usually opposed to something; but the being of something is already determinate and is distinguished from another something; and so therefore the nothing which is opposed to the something is also the nothing of a particular something, a determinate nothing.”
-G. F. W. Hegel
“Occasionally a painting calls out from beyond its surface and asks us for our attention. The asking is polite enough, like a meeting between two strangers.”
Hegel is not necessarily the kind of philosopher that comes to my mind when I look at or think about art, nor have I ever heard his arguments used as the subject of a conversation during an exhibition opening. However, at the opening of “Null Komma Null” — the German painter Detlef E. Aderhold’s first solo show in New York — the term “aesthetic” circled within the gallery space. When used in more common, quotidian sense, “aesthetic” usually applies to a statement that is “concerned with beauty, art and the understanding of beautiful things,” or describes something that is “made in an artistic way and beautiful to look at.” The notion of “aesthetics” consequently connotes a positive perceptual judgment (as opposed to its negative sibling of “anesthetics”) and evaluates a surface, form or arrangement that our eyes can linger on. Aderhold’s colorful paintings — which merge figuration and abstraction, and display a rich, often quite ambiguous texture and tactility — are surely beautiful to look at, yet most of them speak through a quality that calls from beyond a linen surface stretched onto a frame. They are aesthetic not in a common, but rather natural sense of the term.
When Hegel presented his ”Lectures on Aesthetics” in Berlin between 1820 and 1829, he grounded his subject in “the wide realm of the beautiful,” which he restricted to fine art, and understood aesthetic not as a qualitative statement, but as the science of sensation and feeling; while art presented the means to portray the human essence, at first in a physical form, and later “a more spiritual form.” In his view, art consequently reveals or embodies ideas — things intangible and abstract by their very nature. Independent from whether one agrees with Hegel or not (not to speak about whether one fully understands him) there is something genuine in both his notions of aesthetic and art, and therefore they closely relate to Adernold’s paintings and artistic practice, because Aderhold’s work seeks an encounter that is based on visceral and sensitive understanding — preceding judgment and preconceptions.
The exhibition’s title has its origin in a small square painting recalling a fragmented female face. A pair of bright red lips, slightly off-center and enticingly opened to reveal the tips of an upper row of teeth, is joined by a single, dislocated eyeball staring from the upper right of the canvas. There are no lids, not even a hint that could ease the viewer from this constant gaze. However disturbing this impression might be, it is simultaneously calmed (or distracted) by overlapping, translucent patterns that fill the painting’s remaining space. Washed out swathes of mint green, soft pink and lemon yellow are joined by cloudlike formations of black and grey. This well-orchestrated visual chaos, of seemingly no end or real beginning except from the boundaries of the canvas, can be understood as a metonym for what Adernold’s work touches upon — affects — and is further emphasized by the work’s title. Null Komma Null (2011) translates as “zero point zero” and emphasizes Adnerold’s conscious decision to deprive his viewers of any linguistic and therefore logical or intellectual point of reference.
A similar kind of felt, visual noise is present in two other artworks. City 2 (2008) and Makes My Eyes Rain (2014) are large paintings of geometric forms that recall cityscapes, fragmented maps, perhaps even ruins. Even if Makes My Eyes Rain is more figurative in its nature, both images depend on and are ultimately held together by their dripping, fluidly colored backgrounds. The layers, stains and marks dissect, highlight and conceal, and thereby allude to a state of precariousness like a fading or incomplete memory, or the residue of a dream. The Force Take series (2012) instead confronts the viewer with lines and layers of color deprived of any figurative symbolism or “objective” representation. According to Eric Sutphin, who curated the show, affective states are the unifying conceptual principle in Aderhold’s practice, materializing through the formal element of the stain. These stains are often made of coffee or thinned paint, that appears to be acrylic, watercolors and ink— they emerge like diffuse bodies and bubbles, obliterate and allow new (two-dimensional) connections to be drawn, or rather seen. A notion of the psyche resonates within these paintings and ties into Adernold’s background as a psychotherapist.
In fact, Aufriss (2007) is a large collage taken from charts, graphs, illustration and notes, each of which originally provided maps of the human mind by documenting studies on how memory changes or is affected by the experience of negative and positive life-changing events. Considering the work’s systematic arrangement of numeric and textual sequences, its grid-like structure, as well as its use of information as aesthetic material, Aufriss recalls the work of Hanne Darboven. However, this complex drawing fulfills a kind of key function, not only for the show, but also for Adernold’s practice: the signs, numbers and schemes ultimately display not unrelated forms, but affective states that are reduced to or are encoded within indices. The surface then becomes a fragile façade for indiscernible chains of information, for something that is held within, somewhere between the mind and the guts.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, ed. Michael Inwood, trans. Bernard Bosanquet (London: Penguin, 1993), xiv, 3-4.