After going through phases of anger, grief, several tantrums and denial over world politics, our expat correspondent finally felt relief in the exhibition Actions speak louder than fonts! by Christine Wang at Galerie NAGEL DRAXLER Berlin. January 13 -March 4, 2017.
Opening just before Trump’s inauguration, in hard times, LA-based artist Christine Wang still has a healthy—albeit dark— sense of humor on controversial subjects like politics and rape porn.
Completely en vogue, in “Actions speak louder than fonts!” her post-internet large scale paintings on view at Galerie Nagel Draxler shared and crystallized the “sin of omission“ of contemporary liberal and right voices that voted, protested but mostly swiped, liked, and watched, during the US elections.
Though painting as a medium seems kind of outdated, and Wang’s last show used mostly renaissance-style gold leaf, in this exhibition the medium sets our times, becoming a super-size text-message with a neon, red, white and blue color palette. Bombarded by text in varying fonts on social media, advertisements or newspapers, her paintings function like an iconic giant screen or static gif. The layered fonts on each painting tell different opinions and conflicting narratives. But to be clear, Wang considers herself a performative painter rather than a first-person narrator. Her painting is a performance of attitudes.
Literally taking the lines from a cheesy instagram poet, proclaiming liberal solidarity post-Trump election, the painter yells on top of the smart phone screen in fancy cursive “F*** your hug, I want freedom.” Sometimes words and likes are just not enough. Paint on the other hand cements the layers and puts the foundations into question and can make the take-home message grander. Her insults are on target like sugarless advertising, hashtags or political slogans, for example, by writing “Trump Voter’s can’t paint” over the Beastie Boys Memorial which was sprayed with swastikas or by using the image from a German tabloid newspaper on Trump, reading “Bitte nicht den Horror Clown” (Please, not the Horror Clown), she over-paints in a Graffiti scrawl, “I didn’t vote”. Herein, she addresses the failures of right as well as the liberal voices in one paint brush stroke, bringing adverse social bubbles together.
Contradiction is at the essence of how her text and image relate. The canvas becomes a visual chat forum, word against word, font against font. Though “I love Rape Porn” does not condone rape, it turns the touchy subject into a statement, visualizing the painter’s own vulnerability as a touristic voyeur on the internet, messaged over these violent scenes. Her comments shed light on the lies behind consumer culture. A contemporary Marie Antoinette, wearing Nike could make similar quips, written on Chocolate Cake: “I can buy any cake I want” or on “Running Shoes are worth it”, depicting neon Flyknit sneakers.
Wang’s mediums unmask social hierarchies and status. By creating Skid Row scented candles, she wafts the fecal matter of an area in LA notorious for its terrible living conditions into the bourgeois household and life-style. There is a sharp irony to the tone of her gesamtwerk. What is seen and what is meant is not equal to an action but is a positioning. It makes sense that she does not believe in political art, “Art can’t participate as a citizen, my paintings can’t vote. It’s about getting better at being human,” she says, then laughs, “Some feed-back I received for the show was, ‘terrible paintings, good show’.” Though a back-handed compliment, these technically straight-forward projection-paintings read loud and clear, truly, bringing the dilemmas inherent in fashioning a contemporary, political voice to the point.