CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
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Christian Knudsen

This exhibition, curated by Benjamin Klein, offered an enticing cross-section of Christian Knudsen’s painting, sculpture, drawing and photography. A restless spirit, Knudsen gives the impression of a savant at work.

The show’s spidery or perhaps centipede-like floor sculptures in metal and wood—ambulatory, predatory, unstoppable in their way—seem possessed by an intelligence quite beyond our ken. The drawings demonstrate a spiritual dimension that the artist’s old friend Yves Gaucher would have loved.The paintings resemble pungent fields of Silly Putty that we can sink our teeth—and tactile senses—into with abandon. The photographs speak to microcosm, macrocosm and beyond.

The title of the show, “A Brief History of Time,” is borrowed from the book by the physicist Stephen Hawking. It points toward the artist’s scientific mind and sheds light upon the ethics, temporality and labour involved in the making of work of any kind. Knudsen has maintained a studio practice for decades; with this show, he underscores that we are made in and of time.

A set of black-and-white photographs has been printed with quadtone archival inks (containing 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% black respectively), resulting in a richness and density that curl the photo paper and help fold the imagination of the viewer into the imagery. The prints are given several days to dry and then flattened before Knudsen adds pencil markings and acrylic paint. The canvases in the show, such as untitled 231208, have been painted with several coats of a nearly black umber overlaid with markings in graphite and red and yellow acrylic that function like puncti on the paintings’ surfaces.

It is important to Knudsen that his works’ surfaces achieve a certain threshold of density in order to produce an ambiguous brightness, which seeps out like the sun behind overcast clouds, creating tension between bright and dark, but implicitly moving towards the light.

This body of work evokes high Minimalism, but its sheer sumptuousness makes it more than a facsimile of the art of yesteryear. The paintings and drawings recall Brice Marden’s sinuous paintings on marble, but with a far harder edge. In recent years, Knudsen has been working steadily in his studio, making work that is a breeding ground for contemplation. His eerie, determined precision contributes to an abiding sense of quiet that is matched in the work by a deeply experimental sensibility. Knudsen continues to push the structural envelope of art, delivering a cascade of epiphanies that makes you look and look again.

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