Somewhere in between urban grids, flashing colours and circular movements, the works in Flora Klein’s solo show at Galerie Max Mayer in Düsseldorf groove. Vivid new paintings are presented alongside a series of drawings. Bright colours and metaphoric shapes emerge and are placed in tension with the refined yet playful Brutalism of the Schmela Haus in Düsseldorf, constructed in 1971 by a design of Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck (1918-1999).
Van Eyck, widely considered one of the founding fathers of structuralism in architecture, referred to his architectural practice as “reciprocity” –striving to unite the interrelations of form and necessity in dialogue. With Schmela Haus, van Eyck conceived a building that was a place both to live and to work, an art gallery and home for renowned Düsseldorf dealer Alfred Schmela, during a time when the white cube and the warehouse were becoming the standard backdrop for exhibiting art. Making manifest the architect’s constant search for balance in diversity, Schmela Haus merges together public and private space.
The interconnected spaces of the Schmela Haus are stacked and layered with rhythmic attention to detail. A floor-to-ceiling window at street-level draws in passersby, which is in turn repeated in a further large glass screen that connects to a courtyard garden. This doubled transparency creates an interspace, a common basis that connects outside and inside, public and domestic. The galleries themselves are found below ground level, following a tapered bridge that emphasizes the spiralling volumes of van Eyck’s structuralist vision.
An open staircase leads down the lower gallery, creating a descent that moves past an airy, triple-height elevator shaft. Walking down, I have the urge to touch the walls, astonished by the aesthetic of the space – seduced by the various textures of concrete from flat to porous, finished up by a marble floor. When reaching the lower gallery space, where no natural light is to be found, one cannot help but wonder if this is the right setting to display paintings. In response, the exhibition opens with a group of drawings hanging in the somewhat functional in-between space around the elevator shaft. Klein’s charcoal and graphite drawings surround the steel structure – an overture in round forms. In Drawing (2021) and Drawing (galaxy) (2021), the frenetic lines build immediacy and a spiraling sequence in graphite and coloured pencil as set against the straight lines and geometrical outline of the omnipresent architecture.
In the main gallery space, the curved neon orange and fuchsia grid lines of Cold Summer (2021) do not give in to the surrounding architecture but challenge the strict lines in subtle placement that allows for play. Reminiscent of 1970s aesthetics, geometric blocks build stratifications that evoke lines of a city map or an interconnected node. In M29 (2021), brushstrokes sway from heavy and determined to light and gentle. However, Klein’s paintings do not take form in recognizable patterns: the viewer finds no system to classify the forms. Rather, it is possible to go from one painting to the next, pleasantly uncovering supposed connections only to throw them overboard again in the next moment. Klein sends me on a journey of restless eyes, re-discovering the canvases, again and again, searching for logic.
In this exhibition, Klein’s gridded cityscapes, jiving planes and monochrome vortexes bring the outside all the way into the cellar of Schmela Haus. The curved lines and bright colours reconnect to urban and public space with the disorderly logic of a construction site and warning signals. Eschewing a unifying aesthetic of materials and shapes makes haptic the viewer’s experience of Klein's new works: both the large-scale paintings in which round tubes of colour dance on blazing, layered canvases, and the circular graphite drawings. The exhibition makes way for tension within the echoes of van Eyck’s architecture, especially through the various textures of concrete and porous bricks. The unsteady surfaces of the paintings are themselves exposed to the architectonics of the space: yet they’re in desynchrony, and yet move together – a reciprocity that grooves.
Galerie Max Mayer