November 9, 2012–January 12, 2013
Art history has assigned exactly two functions to photography in its relationship to painting. The first has been to take over the accurate representation of objects, landscapes, and persons and thereby to free painting for taking on the “higher tasks” (Wolfgang Kemp) which have been realized through the “-isms” since the end of the nineteenth century. The second has been to provide images which could be used by painters as models for their work and which, in the process of painting, underwent a transformation and revaluation into works of art.
Nina Pohl’s New Paintings are photographic images which not only reverse this traditional relationship, but also reevaluate it in a pointed manner. It is painting which here provides the initial models, above all the painting of Art Informel or Abstraction as the scene of an ostentatious working on the picture: brushstrokes and layers of paint, contours and textures, pastose application and palimpsest-like markings, which Pohl completely or fragmentarily records and presents in significant enlargement. In this way, that which was abstract (and to some extent already large-formatted) —works by Franz Kline, Josef Albers, Joan Mitchell, et al. — is extended further in its two-dimensionality, rendered unbounded as an image, and thereby closely scrutinized, as if in this project the primary task of photography consisted of scanning the surfaces of paintings in order to register them in an inventory.
In many ways, this constellation is reminiscent of Antonioni’s film Blow Up (UK 1966) which, in a sequence that has since become legendary, staged the process of an enlarging contemplation as a technique for the dissolving of representations into surfaces and as a transformation of motifs into markings. In the familiar, proto-criminological plot of Blow Up, there remains, after the enlargement of what was once a motif, not much more than points and patterns — a spectacle of another sort in which, above all, the materiality of the image is brought to light. With Antonioni, it is the materiality of the photographic image; with Pohl, it is the materiality of the painted image, which in the New Paintings comes to the fore scarcely less distinctly than in Pohl’s Ohne Titel (“Untitled”) from the years 2004 to 2006, pictures which transform a series of historical sea-pieces into landscapes of the second degree, complete with reliefs, gradations of color, and incidences of light through which the surface attains its own plasticity. (What is less well-known but relevant with respect to the New Paintings is the fact that one theme of Blow Up is also the competitive relationship between painting and photography, in strict accordance with the traditional rules which have always granted superior status to painting and devalued photography into a technical procedure for producing pictures. The painted image which is thereby juxtaposed with the pictures of the photographer is an ensemble of black and white strokes which bears striking resemblance to some of the models for the New Paintings.