25 July – 29 August 2020
10 – 12 September 2020
Gallery Weekend Berlin
Christine Roland and Kara Hamilton
At Kurfürstenstraße 156
Site-specific installation at Henry Art Gallery
University of Washington, Seattle
11 June 2020 – 7 February 2021
Suzanne Hudson, World of Art: Contemporary Painting, Thames & Hudson
Olomouc Triennale 2020: The Universal, curated by Gina Renotière
Diversity United. Contemporary European Art
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
11 November 2020 – 21 February 2021
Undo Things Done Exhibition Tour
Senedd, National Assembly for Wales
26 July – 9 September 2020
Masculinities: Liberation through Photography
Barbican Centre, London; Luma Foundation, Arles, and Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin
Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin, established in 2008, is dedicated to developing a cross-disciplinary, trans-generational gallery programme with off-site projects, in collaboration with artists, filmmakers, critics, art historians, and curators. Its international exhibition programme reflects a variety of opinions and practices as well as Leighton’s associations with American and British experimental cinema, artist’s film and video, performance, minimal and conceptual art.
Director: Simon Gowing
Director: Patrick Armstrong
Gallery Manager: Melanie Isabel García
Finance Manager: Stefan Schuster
Tanya Leighton GmbH
Kurfürstenstraße 156 & 24/25
Open Tuesday – Saturday
11am – 6pm and by appointment
Frieze, 7 November 2017
For those who take epithets to heart, Math Bass’s friendly-seeming paintings at Tanya Leighton might’ve seemed laced with bitter irony. Each of Bass’s graphic gouaches is called Newz! (all works 2017): the peppy ‘z!’ making a perversely zesty backbeat over a word that, of late, has tended to presage dispiriting information. This comic attention to letters links the works to their collective title; the pictures have less to do with the disasters and misfortunes local to Fox, BBC and MSNBC than cartoon alligators, white bones doubling as speech bubbles and other animate shapes.
These entities snap life into eight mostly square and rectangular canvases, whose bare fabric serves as ground. Often, the pictures are twinned, with repeated shapes subtly modulated; I imagined these works being compare-and-contrast exercises for precocious Waldorf children, designed to model principles of general and particular. In one, a red cone sits on the canvas’s bottom edge, rounded tip meeting upper boundary; in another, the same shape has inexplicably shrunk. Next to both hangs a white speech bubble. Inside, the letter ‘Z’ suggests that the cones are snoozing. But while one ‘Z’ is wavy and calligraphic, the other is starched sans-serif, doubled to form a punchy zigzag.
With these works, Bass hits the sweet spot almost too squarely, achieving a layered palatableness that nearly erases the knots, conflicts and enigmas that make the best artworks burn slowly. Here, visual escapism blends seamlessly with historical erudition: post-painterly abstraction, sophisticated modernist design. Meanwhile, the artist's mimicking of repetitious yet shape-shifting language delivers high-minded memories of Gertrude Stein, and the more recent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. Result: the paintings are nearly impossible to dislike, unless you come to bristle at their exact orchestration, in content and form. Excepting a brushy bloom of smoke emitting from three domino-like cigarettes in one Newz painting, the works are disturbed by nary a drip or flubbed edge.
All of which brings us to the question of Bass's relationship to the mores that govern good behaviour: middle-class life on the one hand, and critically aware contemporary art on the other. While these paintings risk an allegiance with lifestyle products of ‘good taste’, they also display a healthy disregard for the dictum that good art risks failure. In recent years, the veneer of risk, as performed aesthetic vulnerability, has become such a reliable artistic strategy as to feel like a new strain of conservatism. In contrast, Bass's sometimes too-reliable procedures give unassuming expression to surprising phenomena, such as the rhythms of seeing and speaking that usually remain unremarked upon in day-to-day life.
Across Kurfürstenstrasse, in the second half of Leighton’s two-building gallery, Bass makes symbolic room for the bodies that often seem to come along for the ride, while our heads go about witnessing and decoding art. Three sculptures (all Crowd Rehearsal, 2017) are comprised of canvas constructions, brightly painted in gouache and placed on structures: a canary raincoat over a black easel, a cream pant leg over a birch ironing board, a mysterious black and white pall over a red mass, revealed by knifed slits, all atop a low cerulean platform. I couldn’t take my eyes off of these bright simulations of banal items. They have the defiant magnetism of things transitioning from useful to used up: the psychedelic leaves outside my window, the spotting banana just inside it: a romantic thought, maybe, but here a well-founded one. Far from being dismissed in Bass’s new work, language and thinking are given an echo, adequate to their weird physical facticity.
9 September – 21 October 2017, Tanya Leighton, Berlin
This time, it was a speech bubble. With each new set of her "NEWZ!" paintings, I like to study the one or few new forms that emerge have always been there. She found a speech bubble revealed its absence by carving the shape of doorway from that of a bone.
Math Bass has built unraveled the "NEWZ!" series by making a grammar out of negative space. Often, forms emerge not through their presence but rather through what's withdrawn from view. I try to follow backtrack from A to B to Z. Math told me the quotation mark she uses came from is just the nostril of her often-featured alligator. (You won't find the quote in this show, but you'll get the gator's jaws). From nostril to quotation mark, a shape becomes another by not changing at all. Here,a cavity becomes language words congeal around a void.
The operation making sense out of absence makes me think about all the visceral abstractions I wade through: like gender, like value. How they work by circulation and repetition, like a kingdom of dominoes. How they concretize bodies like concrete poured in jeans by evacuating meaning like limp canvas sleeves. What is gender, what is value, besides an appearance of coherence after the fact of fabrication? And from Rob Halpern what is a body besides "a hole around which everything that appears, appears to cohere"?
I think about all the visceral abstractions wrapped around me: like value, like gender grand discourses of cash and cum. How being abstract doesn't make them any less real ly able to immiserate and kill. How they take their place among our many integuments – not just the rind, but the pith, not just the pith, but the membrane around each bit of pulp. How we grow into their architectures stretched canvas gym mat, or their folds the way unsewn hems appear to have been flayed, or need them to prop ourselves up on this is the staircase's teeth. Meanwhile, the metaphors of condensation and coagulation are all I Sianne Ngai have left to describe their work shrines to an aftermath presented as the present.
Playing dumb Los Angeles artist I watch turn my head as one object becomes another by not changing at all from N to W to Z (!). The grammar of negative space manages to articulate difference out of more of the same. How can language stand in for what's unsaid? Maybe negative space is another way of referring to tone: the work the body does around the words. Maybe negative space is the body itself a hole, a void, a wound defined by its vulnerability to penetration, definition. Maybe these speech bubbles aren't speech bubbles after all, but rather a kind of catachresis for the loss that speechlessness itself can't articulate, or the hollow in the marrow. In dominoes, a single tile is called a bone.
— Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
In her first exhibition at Tanya Leighton, Math Bass presents a series of new large-scale paintings and sculptures. The show spans both gallery spaces at 156 Kurfürstenstrasse and 24/25 Kurfürstenstrasse. This will be the artist's first solo exhibition in Europe.