For the best pickit in a brewflade, pick Flowers.-- Stanley Unwin
Richard Höglund is dead serious about his art. But if he is, then he's not. In the end, the apparent contravention becomes convention. Let me explain.
Höglund’s "Fieldwork," a series of drawings and installation at Gallery Diet, display a veritable omnium gatherum of styles.1 They are ambitious pieces, filled with elliptical renderings, doodling minutia, quasi-writing, diverse looping, volumes in revolution, parabolic dispersions, hyperbolic explosions and quanta-like charts. There are traces of visual punning, graffiti, diagrammatic scrawling and capricious scribbling. Below, Untitled (v. libertate humana), 2009, 44x72" [Graphite, diatomaceous earth & acrylic gesso on linen]
From afar, the drawings look like a Gestalt. One can visualize a clear axis, with upper and lower zones. But as you come real close, the emerging details suddenly disconnect from the rest, as if executed by synapses in different brain hemispheres. Untitled (v. libertate humana) [detail]
Even scribble has its context! There are two distinct "graphic drives" in Modern Art. One is proto-ideological, design-oriented, quasi-geometric and intentionally planned. Take a look at the center of Höglund's Untitled (iii de affectibus), 44x72", 2009:
Then, there is l'écriture automatique (and its close cousins), generally apolitical, intuitive and amorphous. Untitled (iii de affectibus), 44x72", 2009 [detail]
The "style dissonance" happens no matter whether one approaches Höglund's drawings from a "historic," or a "formalist" viewpoint.2 For instance, unless one is familiar with art styles, one may not realize the huge gap between Mondrian and Tanguy.3 They both worked in Europe in the 1930's, but they belong in different vocabularies; their work emerging as solutions to different formal and historic problems. Mondrian's "hard" grids and Tanguy's "fuzzy" landscapes are sort of opposites.
Höglund's Gestalt is at a crossroads: When he seems fuzzier, he really IS NOT, because of the straitjacket of his own overall design. Is there chance for chance?4 (Thus, my big red sentence, above).
In Untitled (ii. de mente), 44x72", 2009 [detail], we get the best of both worlds. Here, calligraphy and doodling blend to achieve an abstract and subtle ebb-and-flow mood. On the upper vertical axis, above, you get a tinily buzzing island of pontillistic scrawling, cut off by a tatty little rectangle. Is Höglund zooming on muons of memory? For sure, he is having a lot of fun.
Obviously, Höglund could care less. He might argue that my analysis is as "conventional" as his drawing choices. And it's true that art doesn't have to respond to any such constraints. He could point that he favors hybridization and crossbreeding of styles. And that's that. Yet, he would still agree with me that some of his "fuzzier," more interesting choices imitate a "synthesized," stereotyped version of the original.* What was -then- chaos, becomes now "designed chaos." Even Höglund's drawings have a time-and-space. He could not have produced "Fieldwork" right on the spot, out of nowhere.5 Could he have made this installation in the New York of the early 1950's?
Which brings me to the sculptural element in "Fieldwork." I recall the strong smell of rubber, which filled the space the night of the opening, which took me out of the hierarchy of sight, into olfactory denigration. As if all of a sudden, Höglund's i. de deo exploded, turning flat smudges on linen into solid rubber shards on a gallery floor, causing a three-dimensional white-cubicle origami with the writer of this review inside it.
Höglund's drawings may not driven by modernist ideas of progress or revolutionary inquiry, but they work at the level of mental statements: injuries and traumas of the conflicting and unresolved project of Modernity.
1Höglund exhibits an array of Modern/ Postmodern influences: Masson’s écriture automatique, Lettrist Maurice Lemaître, Cy Twombly’s graffiti, Timothy Ely metaphysical ruminations and Julie Mehretu’s cosmic amalgams. 2 Structuralists make a distinction between "diachronic," or historic approach to art that looks for changes in a particular epoch (for example, Conceptual Art as reaction to Pop Art) and the "synchronic" approach, which looks at structural aspects of Western Art (independently from historic events). 3The formalist would defend his point this way: Imagine any four different "details" of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. One reason you would not have a problem connecting each detail back to the whole triptych is that they belong in a Bosch-style continuum. *By "original" I don't mean purer. 4A question attributed to Einstein by Paul Tillich, during their meeting at Davos, expressing the physicist's frustration with the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. 5 In The Blind Watchmaker, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins suggests the possibility of a monkey typing Hamlet's line: "Methinks it's like a weasel." Dawkins actually calculates the odds against that possibility: 1 in 10,000,000,0006!