Press Release of the Exhibition
'MORE STATEMENTS IN THE SPIRIT OF MILITANT AGNOSTICISM'
Sep 23rd > Oct 11th 2008
Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art presents 'More Statements in the Spirit Militant Agnosticism', the third solo show at the gallery by Swiss/American artist Michael Biberstein (Solothurn, 1948).
Since his last solo exhibition at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, Biberstein has worked on two large scale projects: a mural-size painting for the executive dining room of the new FIFA headquarters in Zurich (completed last year) and a monographic museum for a suite of works, part of the Hess Collection in Colomé, Argentina, with the opening planned for 2010/11.
The current exhibition presents a group of paintings from 2007/2008. Those familiar with Biberstein’s work will discover a clear evolution, mainly chromatically, but also in the transformation of the interior space of the paintings. Those not familiar with the work will discover one of Portugal’s (Biberstein has lived here for over thirty years) most consistent artists.
The work centers on the investigation of how the language of painting (and within that the language of landscape-painting in particular) as an expression of the metaphysical and the sublime affects us physiologically - even after the end of faith and religion.
In one of the exhibition rooms a space of emersion is staged. In the centre of the room, the spectator is encircled by three paintings that fill his horizon. As on a cliff, the horizon stretches beyond the boundaries of the gaze. It is an encounter with something bigger, sublime maybe.
The landscape is deconstructed, saturated, dissolved in order to have a retinal effect. From a distance it presents a depth that extends the painting into the wall, at close proximity the paintings are absolutely flat. This paradoxical situation induces a meditation focus for some and imposes an oscillating movement for others, both stimulated by a search for the intensity of the act of seeing.
Biberstein’s paintings are ‘psycho-physiological’ the artist says, as they aim to impinge on the spectator a subliminal effect in the sense of relaxing him (or her) and allowing him to enter a state of contemplation. They are projection canvases, dialogue membranes open to different ways of seeing and feeling painting. A landscape that surpasses the mere image of nature to present a chromatic space in permanent transmutation, which changes with the light and with theposition of the spectator.
These paintings are atmospheric, almost evanescent. The presence of an aerial element is intensified by titles such as Glider. The titles of the works are inspirations for the creation of an environment. Attractor, for example, reinforces the idea of an invisible force of attraction (be it between elements of the painting, be it of the spectator itself).
Press Release of the Exhibition
Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art presents “Unification Theory, Part I”, a selection of new paintings by Michael Biberstein
Opening: Tuesday, October 26, 10 p.m.
October 27 to November 20, 2004
Michael Biberstein has indeed dissolved and shifted the attention of his work from landscape to the atmospheric. The selection of canvases, ranging from small scale to expansive renderings, comprise the show at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, convey a feeling of distance and sublime silence, in the wake of his most recent solo exhibition in Zurich, in September/October of 2004.
Although Michael Biberstein does not link the meaning of his work directly to their titles or the meaning of a selection of his works to the title of an exhibition, ‘Unification Theory’ does nevertheless play a role in shedding some light by suggesting one in many ways of regarding the artist’s most recent work. Biberstein indeed has a love for art and philosophy which is matched by his affinity for physics and astronomy. The Theory of Everything, the (Real), in other words, the quest for a grand Unification Theory, began with Sir Isaac Newton. This theory ought to provide a blanket statement to describe all things known and unknown to man (in the entire universe). There are two main theories used to describe everything: general relativity, proposed by Einstein, which describes gravity as the result of curvature of space-time; and quantum mechanics, which describes force in terms of little packages. In order to bridge these two seminal theories, some physicists have developed new hypotheses: string theory, supersymmetry, the superstring theory and wave theory. The pursuit for a single, multi-disciplinary theory, capable of explaining every phenomenon in the universe, from a physical, biological and chemical standpoint, has also lured Michael Biberstein.
“I see paintings as «seeing machines». For me, the world only exists as a sequence of physical processes. This is not because I believe the world to be described to my full satisfaction based on the knowledge of the so far unveiled physical laws – unfortunately not. It is more the empirically extracted insight that our knowledge of a comprehensive theory of everything is not sufficient and probably never will be.”
Summoning the words of Pseudo-Longrinos (1st century AD) once more:
Nature has set us humans…into the vast
cosmos as into the scenery of an enormous
feast; we are here to take cognizance of the
whole and the most ambitious of
contestants. She therefore instilled in our
souls an insatiable desire for all that is
great and more devine than ourselves
(in ‘On Vernet, Lanscape, the Sublime and the Beautiful, and what Relevance they might still have to Contemporary Art, B&B publications, Lisbon).
Biberstein’s “skyscapes”, “atmospheres” or better yet, his “soulscapes” (Otto Niumaier), aren’t a pure, simple view of Nature, nor a depiction of her qualities; they are, or can additionally be seen as “skyscapes”/”atmospheres” of the field of possibilities of the medium of painting. On the one hand, these works deal with the issue of scale, on the other, intuition as a legitimate process of knowledge. As Delfim Sardo states, “the centre of Michael Biberstein’s recent work has thus been flexibility of distance, the policy of an epistemological freedom which does not require understanding as a normative phenomenon, and recovery of new subjectivities. It is therefore a question of giving up the search for correct distance (…) of giving up the opposition between inner and outer, between seeing and understanding”.
“Biberstein’s paintings are less depictions than, more accurately, a projection screen for states of recognition and spiritual consciousness, in search of the basic laws of being, and possibly, even the transition to non-being” (Petr Nedoma, Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, January 2002, in ‘…towards silence’).
Biberstein has subtly rendered the shift from landscape to the atmospheric, the evanescent and dimly perceived – a tendency towards emptiness (and silence) – with colour by distancing the colouristic sensation away from its naturalistic origin, for his palette is rendered, rather than found in his use of the sfumato. These nebulaec paintings in acrylic “guide the eye into areas that do not allow for a static closing of space” (Celia Montolio), they elude form, area or concentration into a single space, rendering a shifting, inconclusive universe beyond the picture itself.
Michael Biberstein was born in Solothurn, Switzerland in 1948, where he lived until 1964. He then moved to the United States. There he finished his formal education, and studied art history with the late David Sylvester, one of the finest writers on art in the second half of the 20th century and a skilled exhibition maker, whose work enriched our understanding of Matisse, Picasso, Magritte, Giacometti, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon.
Michael Biberstein is a self-taught painter. He lives and works in Portugal. His work has been extensively revised in enlightening essays, published in exhibition catalogues throughout his career.
Press Release of the Exhibition
Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art presents 'Painting', a one man show by Michael Biberstein.
Opening: September 19th 2002, by 10pm.
September 19th to October 26th 2002
Michael Biberstein (b. Solothurm, Switzerland, 1948) has taken a fairly atypical road for someone in the art field. As far as this is concerned, special relevance is given to the study in art history that he developed alongside David Sylvester at Swarthmore College, Philadelphia, and that helped him to become conscious of the pictorial problems that would later become part of his visual work’s body of research. This biographical datum will become structural for his introduction to artistic practice and for the understanding of the whole of his work through a critical revising of the European pictorial tradition, which has been kept as an operative “tool” until this day. In this tradition, his work has been, quite often, incorporated in the practice of landscape as a pictorial genre. But what is the nature of this incorporation and which landscape?
In the artist’s own words, it is “the landscape of painting and not the painting of landscape”, which places us in the limits of the landscape of painting itself, that is to say in the context of its syntax. This inflexion, although apparently minimum, is however revealing of the core of the artist’s research: the concept of landscape is a useful metaphor for the research that he has been developing throughout his more than 30 years of work because it directly implies the context of vision as well as the pictorial corollary of 200 years of European art, in the problems of format and scale that form it.
This research constituted by “landscape through landscape” marks the artist’s journey since the beginning which, because of its length and volume – and, consequently, difficulty in being put in a few words – does not excuse a more attentive reading of the bibliography published on him [see attached biography]. Some key-moments are, however, possible of being pointed out: first of all, in the late 60s, through a systematic all-over-painting work, in a methodological follow-up of the proceedings derived from abstract expressionism; then, in the 70s, by making a theme out of monochrome, which is paradoxically “the starting point and arrival of the practice of painting”, and in exploring the very constitutive elements of the painting lexicon, in methodological and conceptual approaches imported from “linguistic-analytic” processes (that reveal an attentive reading of Wittgenstein) or from structuralism, in what came to be known – in the artist’s ironic phrase – as the “analytic phase”.
This semantic deconstruction of the painting language had been developed, in a parallel way, in a research on the space-dimension itself (in matters such as “wall/floor” or “painting/canvas”) of the context of its reception, and in the embodiment that its perception calls upon, which are concerns very common to the artistic practise of the time.
Thus, the problem of the relation between the painted image and the act of painting, the relation between the painting and the area and the question of area as the key-vehicle of the meaning, together with an acute conscience of the practice of painting in its historical dimension, mark Biberstein’s path since the beginning of his career and have instinctively formed his continued practice.
In the mid-80s an important inflexion in his work has taken place in the light of these principles – one which, as opposing his previous work, has been called “synthetic phase” – towards the landscape of romantic tradition (although both theme and process are not similar to the latter’s), which has coincided with an increase in scale, derived from a continued practice of drawing.
An inflexion towards art as landshafterei, that is, as an abstract and reflex concept of a thought that leads to a peripheral aspect of pictorial tradition: landscape as a field of possibilities to the reformulation of the spectator’s embodiment and as a rehearsal area for painting as an horizon and destination of its artistic practice.
The present one-man show, generically titled “Painting” and starting September 19th at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, is built in the line of this work, revealing, on the other hand, a deepening of that research through the introduction of a wider and firmer chromatic range and through a greater structural density.
In this way, going back to his previous years of activity, the eight acrylic on canvas works being presented reveal painting as a field of possibilities for landscape: no longer immediately recognisable in his gestalt but as the construction of a specific kind of vision (“diffuse vision”), rearranged and converted into landscape by the methodology of a presentation – that which Robert Morris called “a kind of landscape mode”.
This rehabilitation of the problems of perception in art, and its spatial performance in the act of reception, constitutes one of the most current concerns of contemporary art. You shouldn’t, however, find strange the road that Biberstein has been leading either in Portugal (where he lives since 1979) and in the international scene, which has been granting him the inclusion in major exhibitions (for example, in Documenta IX, Kassel, in 1992).
As far as this is concerned, his nomination for the 2002 EDP Painting Award should be mentioned, as well as his soon to be released book, co-ordinated by Delfim Sardo, showing an anthology of his career focused on the central theme of landscape, and the two exhibitions that will soon be held in Switzerland (at Helmaus, Zurich and Kunsthalle; Solothurn). H.M.