The Thomas Huber solo show at Akinci reminds me a little of the Atelier van Lieshout one at Grimm, which I reviewed here last December – if anything because they both revolve around the construction of an imaginary city. But while AVL's was a three-dimensional, all-encompassing experience, Huber's is more of an old-fashioned dip in metaphysical landscapes, à la de Chirico. The Zurich-born artist invites the viewer to visit his urban creation either through the contemplation of immersive paintings – inhabited by the occasional character, sometimes wandering along impossible, Escherian perspectives (Bildaushub, 2013) – or by perusing architectural plans and sketches, similarly painted in rich oil colors and yet encouraging a more detached look.
Thomas Huber, Halle fur Massgaben, vorzeichnung, 2013, colored pencil, acryl on wood, 60 x 100 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Akinci.
Huber's approach to the canvas is clean: he covers it homogeneously and in soft tones, arranging a clear and strictly perspectival overview of his spaces, be they flying geometrically-shaped buildings or minimal interiors. Visible notes and lines expose a designer's attitude in most of the pieces, making sure the viewer is aware Huberville is a work in progress, a vision in the mind of a planner. The painterly warmth of the artist's oil and acquarelle paintings is balanced by the language of architectural design, even though the latter element often appears as tongue-in-cheek, an excuse for Huber to go meta and further frame the images. In fact, the act of designing and composing those very pictures is often the subject of the paintings themselves, which repeatedly appear in a matryoshka-style self-reference across the exhibition: paintings of buildings (or sketches for paintings of buildings) filled with paintings of buildings (Halle für Massgaben, 2013).
Although straight lines and square edges are everywhere, the figure of the mound (depicted as a clean-cut, parabolic curve) is a recurring motif in Huberville, always accompanied by an equal and opposed pit. Voids and fills are thus presented as obsessive and quasi-sexualized architectural elements, the logical pivots of Huber's universe.
Thomas Huber, Halle, Massgaben II, 2013, oil on canvas, 150 x 240 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Akinci.
While the consistency of the artist's visual vocabulary keeps the exhibition extremely cohesive and conceptually air-tight, the few recurring elements create a self-referential vertigo to which one is quickly desensitized. However, Huber's painterly approach to even the most architectural of his pieces (namely, his use of color) makes up for the braininess that would otherwise exude from it all.
In a time when design aesthetics dominate contemporary art, perhaps turning the exploration of imagined spaces into warm illustrations, rather than imitating the coldness of real section plans, is a good way to keep painting interesting.
(Image on top: Thomas Huber, Bildaushub, 2013, oil on canvas, 170 x 240 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Akinci.)