Shift – Consequences (1988)

Review of my exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in Nuremberg in 1988

Nuremberg installation in the SchmidtBank Gallery.

     It was a fascinating discovery that the Pole Jan Niksinski made around 1985 on the coast of Bulgaria when he took black and white photographs of barren sticks on porous rocky ground. Elements emerged in the real world of things that he had previously only consciously perceived in his own, at least partially abstract, artificial world of forms.

     The new phase in his work, which was triggered by this experience, is documented with many examples in an exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in the SchmidtBankGalerie until 16 September. With this show, the Institute is also emphasising its long-standing commitment to Eastern European art.

     Jan Niksinski’s austere, largely unemotional, even intellectual collages and material paintings prove him to be a distinct oddity, considering that the wave of the new wild zeitgeist has only recently reached Poland and has found a broad echo among artists. To a certain extent, he has remained true to his style of painting, which is closely linked to the Polish graphic tradition, and continues his personal development, the earlier stages of which could already be observed in Nuremberg on the occasion of the 3rd International Triennial of Drawing (1985) and a solo exhibition at the Varisella Gallery (1986).

     He builds up his “reliefs” layer by layer, usually in thin layers of paper, which are characterised by broken colours in contrast to pure white.  A coarse-pored material structure, irregularly dug depressions and the smooth edges of glued-on geometric surfaces provoke a subtle interplay of light and shadow. Only on closer inspection does it become apparent that the plasticity of the works does not stem solely from the real shadows of the applied materials. Niksinski utilises the classic illusionist language of trompe-l’œil by using technically perfect painting media to create an irritating illusion of three-dimensionality. Additional structures are introduced by gluing on xerox copies, such as the monotonous pattern of stock market prices from the newspaper in “The image of the way out of the labyrinth”, or the porous consistency of rocks on the Bulgarian photos in the work “I was here at 5 o’clock in the morning”.

     In some pictures, drawn objects represent the foremost layer. Dry sticks seem to stand out from the background, casting clear shadows. The work “Das Beweisstück” shows a piece of real string at the edge. This is then continued in the picture in painted form and later as a photocopy, thus linking the different levels of reality.

     The background also breaks up and is dynamised. From a painted gap in “The Light Source”, blurred white glaringly penetrates to the front. The power of the light resulting from this break-up is best illustrated by the counterpart to this painting, entitled “The Black Hole”, which allows unfathomable but formally summarising black to shine through the painted gap.

     Niksinski’s works are stages in a process that does not exclude the possibility of an earlier work being reworked later, years later, and presented again under a different title.

     The “Installation for Nuremberg” can be seen as a provisional end point in this process of returning abstract forms to the real world of things. The mobile with floating reeds, as it were, white lengths of fabric, a cut up, or rather broken up. Niksinski’s painting and a small lead bar illustrate the complete detachment of the relief from the pictorial ground. Everything that was conceived abstractly in the picture, then began to take on a certain life of its own in the form of real and illusionistic plasticity, now manifests itself as an object floating freely in space. The language has remained the same, only its aggregate state has changed.

     From the beginning of August, a show of older works by the Polish artist will be on display in the Faber-Castell administration building in Stein as an addition to the Institute of Modern Art.

Thomas Kliemann