(excerpt from the article, Form, a Series)
COUNT THEM: five small paintings occupying the large gallery at Peter Blum in Soho but spaced in such a way as to accord with a Fibonacci series—the number series describing a spiral. This is the decision of the Swiss-Austrian artist Helmut Federle, whose works are on view.
An installation so anomalous as this draws our attention to its cause, and points the way to interpreting the paintings for certain symbolic content. Even before we approach the works, we are prepared to read the visual appearance of their compositions through a law of form. Indeed, each of Mr. Federle’s small abstractions repeats the composition of a rotated plane of thinly applied sludge-colored paint, producing by degrees an angular spiral more and more dark and turgid as the layering builds up the surface. At the center is an illusion of a luminous oculus. The spiral construct is, of course, meant to conjoin the mathematical and the mystical, and, as Kandinsky might say, convey to us an inner resonance.
Inspiring in the abstract, nonetheless this set of paintings seems constrained, perfectionist. This work is better understood as an aspect of Mr. Federle’s celebrated practice, dedicated as it is to working the primal matter of paint in different ways to reveal the potential form inherent in structure and series and yet also in chaos. This current show, called “Scratching Away at the Surface,” should be understood in light of an ongoing, open-ended embrace of the extremes, including disorder—at which Mr. Federle is brilliant.
“Scratching Away at the Surface,” now on view at Peter Blum Gallery, 99 Wooster Street, runs through Jan. 2, 2010.