‘The obvious thing to say is that colour speaks for itself in art, and that any attempt to speak on its behalf is bound to fail. And yet for all the small talk that might happily be silenced forever, there is at the same time a bigger silence around the very subject of colour in art...’—David Batchelor, Chromophobia (2000)
Colour is not a simple subject. In this group exhibition, titled ‘Chromophilia’ meaning the love of colour, the artists on view trace the complexity and possibility of colour, emancipated to differing degrees from line and form, within their chosen medium either synthetic or found – from liquid paint to sewn fabric, from coloured glass to LEDs, from neon to bindis.
‘Chromophilia’ brings together paintings, collages, sculptures and installations by artists including Phyllida Barlow, David Batchelor, Larry Bell, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Bowling, Geta Brătescu, Alexander Calder, Martin Creed, Günther Förg, Mary Heilmann, Jenny Holzer, Roni Horn, Bharti Kher, Yves Klein, John McCracken, Jason Rhoades, Pipilotti Rist, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Elisabeth Wild.
Until the 20th Century, colour in European, or Western, art was largely subordinated to line and form. The emancipation of colour in modern art came with the advent of movements such as impressionism, pointillism, fauvism, or the aptly named Blue Rider, and with the early development of modernist abstraction. The role of colour changed radically with the work of pioneering artists from Hilma af Klint to Hélio Oiticica, and with Yves Klein, whose work ‘Total Speed (Crazed Blue)’ 1958, a collaboration with Jean Tinguely, is on view in the exhibition.
A concentration on colour remains a complex topic and the radical, though deceptive, simplicity of the use of single colours, particularly as monochromes, has been one of its most challenging aspects. Extending beyond the monochrome to explore close colour contrasts, Larry Bell’s early oil on canvas ‘Untitled’ (1959) ranges from orange and taupe to sienna and wine. This work anticipates his vibrantly tinted glass sculptures, such as ‘Pacific Red (IV)’ (2016-2017). Both show him to be a formidable colourist.
Colour, however, can be and frequently is highly symbolic, and often it is politicised, representing partisan ideologies, playing a role in activism or denoting race and gender. Colour is not impartial and white is also a colour, not necessarily or merely its absence. Colour is historically defined and located; it changes according to its given cultural associations. In the short, dark days of winter we embrace intense and magnificent colour in festivals and celebrations that serve to reinforce identity.
Throughout his career Frank Bowling has engaged with the complexity of colour in painting, and has developed his own highly original approaches to chromatic abstraction. His work ‘Swimmers’ (2020) presents the viewer with a dense, layered surface, composed from acrylic paints and gels, collaged canvas and found materials or objects.
Bharti Kher’s sculpture ‘Peacock’ (2011) employs sari fabrics dipped in resin; by forming the bright green, shimmery blue and regal red fabrics into a peacock-like shape, Kher draws our attention to the transformation of everyday materials, likewise to the relation of colour to the body, and also to the important roles colour plays in India.
Occupying the full height of the exhibition space, Pipilotti Rist’s immersive installation ‘Wohnzimmerdisco ohne Angst (Living Room Disco without Fear)’ (2009) combines carpets and curtains, with sound and light to create a shower of vivid colour tones. David Batchelor’s ‘Chromodisc’ (2019) is a sculptural clock that uses light to move through the colour spectrum over the course of an hour. Overall, the artists included in ‘Chromophilia’ deploy colour always in inventive and extraordinary ways, helping us to see and experience our world anew.
Roni Horn’s work consistently generates uncertainty to thwart closure in her work. Important across her oeuvre is her longstanding interest to the protean nature of identity, meaning, and perception, as well as the notion of doubling; issues which continue to propel Horn’s practice.
Influenced by 1960s counterculture, the free speech movement, and the surf ethos of her native California, Mary Heilmann ranks amongst the most influential abstract painters of her generation. Considered one of the preeminent contemporary Abstract painters, Heilmann’s practice overlays the analytical geometries of Minimalism with the spontaneous ethos of the Beat Generation, and are always distinguishable by their often unorthodox—always joyful—approach to color and form.
Pipilotti Rist, a pioneer of spatial video art, was born 1962 in Grabs in the Swiss Rhine Valley on the Austrian Border and has been a central figure within the international art scene since the mid-1980s.
Born in London in 1969, Bharti Kher’s art gives form to quotidian life and its daily rituals in a way that reassesses and transforms their meaning to yield an air of magical realism. Now living in New Delhi, India, her use of found objects is informed by her own position as an artist located between geographic and social milieus. Her way of working is exploratory: surveying, looking, collecting, and transforming, as she repositions the viewer’s relationship with the object and initiates a dialogue between metaphysical and material pursuits.
For almost 60 years, British artist Phyllida Barlow took inspiration from her surroundings to create imposing installations that can be at once menacing and playful. She created large-scale yet anti-monumental sculptures from inexpensive, low-grade materials such as cardboard, fabric, plywood, polystyrene, scrim, plaster and cement. These constructions were often painted in industrial or vibrant colors, the seams of their construction left at times visible, revealing the means of their making.
One of the first representatives of conceptualist approaches in Romania, Geta Brătescu’s oeuvre comprises drawing, collage, textiles, photography, experimental film and performance. In her seven-decade career, she has published a number of books documenting her daily studio activities and personal experiences of art and travel.
Born in France in 1911, and working in America from 1938 until her death in 2010, Louise Bourgeois is recognized as one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century. For over seven decades, Bourgeois’s creative process was fueled by an introspective reality, often rooted in cathartic re-visitations of early childhood trauma and frank examinations of female sexuality. Articulated by recurrent motifs (including body parts, houses and spiders), personal symbolism and psychological release, the conceptual and stylistic complexity of Bourgeois’s oeuvre—employing a variety of genres, media and materials—plays upon the powers of association, memory, fantasy, and fear.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889 – 1943) is one of the most important artists of the twentieth-century avant-garde and is considered a pioneer of Constructivist art. Reconciling extremes with conﬁdence—Dada and Geometric Abstraction, ﬁne art and utilitarian objects—Taeuber-Arp’s works boldly engaged with the intellectual context of international modernism. Through her multi-faceted approach to media, she challenged traditional hierarchies between ﬁne and applied art, and asserted art’s urgent relevance to daily life. Taeuber-Arp deﬁed categorization during her brief career through her work as a painter, sculptor, architect, performer, choreographer, teacher, writer, and designer of textiles, stage sets and interiors.
Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual and installation artist whose work deploys text in public spaces across an array of media, including electronic signs, carved stone, paintings, billboards, and printed materials. Holzer’s oeuvre provokes public debate and illuminates social and political justice. Celebrated for her inimitable use of language and projects in the public sphere, Holzer creates a powerful tension between the realms of feeling and knowledge, with a practice that encompasses both individual and collective experiences of power and violence, vulnerability and tenderness.
Jason Rhoades (1965 – 2006) is known for monumental, room-filling installations. These idiosyncratic sculptures incorporate a wide range of objects including products of mass culture combined with hand-made items and biographical references. Drawing on the history of assemblage, Rhoades imbues his materials with powerful formal, narrative and allegorical links, encouraging viewers to connect and interpret the associative chains. Rhoades often drew inspiration from the city of Los Angeles where he lived and worked as well as The Great American West, informed by his rural upbringing in Northern California. His work has been exhibited internationally since the early 1990s.