John von Bergen

OCTOBER 24 DECEMBER 01

PRESS RELEASE

John von Bergen

Abertura

Tuesday October 23, 2012 19h

Período expositivo

October 24 to December 01, 2012

Horário de visitação

Edges and Cracks
When, in November of 2010, I opened the kitchen door of the studio-residence in which I was staying in Miami and saw a tall, bald guy frying bacon and filling the place with smoke, I had no idea that I was meeting a colleauge in art. I believe what drove John von Bergen to request my humble services as a writer may have also been an empathy in identifying similar situations in our works. Although I’m a painter by formation and John is a sculptor, it was in the context of our works in their respective surroundings that we found a dialogue, and it was at that point when his work caught my attention.
Some of Johns’ works seem to refuse the classification tools that usually denominate categories in contemporary production. They are not entirely nor completely defined as free objects within a given space, nor are they prone to occupy that space in such a way as to be called an installation. What we have are things that seem to lie down and contort to the wall like a dog scratching its back on the lawn. And when we think we’ve found a meaning in the work, a second proposal takes the ground out from under our feet.
In a work such as “Chronic #4”, the object is ambiguously presented, like an almost-painting that looks like a thick sheet of rusted metal, and with the grades of corrosion on the surface being actually an abstract painting made of stains. Rust announces the decomposition of the matter, which, in the form of the object, dissolves itself into the whiteness of the wall. The main point of what John presents to us seems to consist of showing that there is no chance to logically comprehend those facts. Beyond the obvious question of how it would be possible that such a situation could be real, I refer here to why the artist would show us that image. It’s not something that could be coming from within the wall, nor is it an object expected to have an extensive relationship with architecture (even though it does have this quality), nor does it look like an attempt to expand the painting in the space. When a negative definition seems to be forming out of all those things that the work is not, we run into a similar work contained within a square, a painting whose content is part of a peeling wall. And when we try to establish a dialectic relation between an object and its contradicting condition, the next work Untitled (“Crack”), shuffles the cards again – we are then facing three similar situations that diverge entirely in the condition of their existence: a corroding object merging into the wall, an autonomous object presenting itself as a stretch of corroded wall, and finally, a work that mimics the wall itself.
If, on the one hand, it’s easy to identify the motifs behind John’s choices, such as in music (Heavy Metal), in science-fiction movies or in the works of Richard Serra (even if to misrepresent such work), then on the other hand, the diversity of media he uses makes it hard to circumscribe a semantic field capable of grouping them. His works refute the comprehension and classification tools we have to analyze the art and the things of this world. By looking at them, the question is perhaps: Why? And it is this refusal that makes them inexhaustible.

The variations in scale also contribute to the peculiarity of this sculptor. In his work there are times of brutal weight, in which a post in actual size, merged in the wall, turns the concrete into a creamy sauce. But there also times in which a small, delicate piece of crumpled paper, placed subcutaneously into the plaster of the wall has the power to activate the entire space around it, naming the whole wall a large sheet of paper.
These are situations that extract power from the viewer’s immersion in a magic reality, using for it trivial materials from daily life capable of operating as threads and resulting in a surreal situation. How could one not recall Magritte in “Hang Nail”? A work that combines the simplicity of 1960’s Conceptual Art with the Belgian painter’s enigmatic images. A nail on the wall to which a string is tied becomes another nail, just like feet become shoes in Magritte’s “Red Model”.
And if in the abstract casuality of the stains that form the rusted surfaces of the “heavy metal” plates we can see turbulent landscapes of electric storms, it is in Johns’ drawings that the forms seem to free themselves from the objectivity of the world to follow a freer path. A mastery of traditional light and shadow that, like the American hyperrealists, recreates reality (surreality, in John’s case) – representations of non-objective forms, modeled sculpturally in graphite on paper. These are drawings that invite us to take a journey, as if we were walking in a riverbed after dropping acid and happen to catch ourselves looking for hours at the sinuous forms of a tree trunk – at certain times they look like bones, at other times wood or fabric. These forms, although well-defined, elude interpretations. If we could extract their genetic material perhaps we would trace their paternity to the skull from Iron Maiden’s “Eddie”, or in a deeper genealogy, to Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Hieronymus Bosch.
The sturdiness of the white wall is an emblem of the insurmountable. The works of this American artist (who chooses to live in Berlin) merge elements of pop culture, rock’n’roll and an abstract language with somber forms of the Northern European art tradition to create enigmatic objects that deconstruct meanings and certainties by rubbing the comforting familiarity of those things around us against the language barriers that limit us.
Henrique Oliveira