Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler is located on the fourth floor of the Pressehaus, an office building which houses several German media conglomerates and a journalism school. Amid the commercial sprawl of Alexanderplatz, it’s a bizarre place for a gallery: especially one with the kind of audience KTZ attracts.
John Seal’s latest show in the space, look to the void with expectation, oh precious and pregnant hope, has the aesthetic of a seaside art gallery your parents might check out on holiday: oil paintings of pastel waves crashing against the beach; an oversized velvet bow tie; thick clownish, colourful brushstrokes on canvas; a cabinet with repeated cup and saucer combinations; still-lifes with floral patterns and wax-dripping candles mounted on an oak dresser. This kind of ‘domestic’ style is being mocked, each of the works having an outrageous element that pushes them into the realm of the absurd.
As the title might already suggest, the exhibition is couched in an erudite, philosophical or literary façade. A text accompanies the show –the story of a conversation between two friends, which touches on questions of perception and the nature of reality through a colloquial and truncated kitchen chat. The text is introduced with a quote from Maurice Blanchot: “At the moment when everything was being destroyed she had created that which was most difficult: she had not drawn something out of nothing (a meaningless act), but given nothing in its form of nothing, the form of something.”
Admittedly, this quotation attracted me to the show in the first place. My Master’s was dedicated to the conception of work (and unworking) in Blanchot’s writing on aesthetics, so I’m not immune to the lure of theory. But, as is too often the case when art and theory are imposed on one another, one or the other is bound to suffer. In the story, we find a commentary on the impossible radicalism of art and the inevitable subsumption of the ‘new’ back into the market, in the form of a commercialised radicalism. The author muses on the repetitive nature of art, whether in concept or aesthetic.
Taken as a literal exposition of this argument, Seal’s works display both actual repetition, and a reuse of old artistic tropes. His medium is mostly oil paint on canvas, an artistic method that is lately often dismissed, unless it’s done with an ironic twist. In the first room of the gallery, his ‘A Very Cellular Song’ (2014), looks digitally-inspired. The traditional still life is contaminated with elements that resemble CGI 3D modeling techniques. The plant and candlestick are painted over with a houndstooth wallpaper pattern that has a transparent quality, making it less like actual wallpaper and more like the desktop background kind. These infusions of the digital onto Seal’s paintings seem less calculated than simply a product of his generation and surroundings.
The idea of bringing ‘nothing’ to the level of ‘something,’ while maintaining its essential nothingness, is presented through the reproduction of the everyday banal, in the form of recognizable artistic tropes and media. But as Seal’s text anticipates, this offers nothing new. The show is irritating and powerful in that respect, as it leads to one conclusion: art is dead and theory cannot revive it. **