Alicja Kwade’s exhibition at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof last year, on the occasion of winning the 2008 Piepenbrock Prize for Sculpture, confirmed—for better or worse—the reputation of the Polish-born sculptor. At 30, she has already become associated with luxe products like mirrored clocks, Kaiser Idell lamps and objects embellished with gold leaf or a cut diamond. Her first solo show at Johann König, bearing the title “Grenzfälle Fundamentaler Theorien” (Limit Cases of Fundamental Theories), introduced new materials and objects, but her sensibility and guiding ideas remain consistent.
Although Der Tag ohne Gestern (The Day without Yesterday), 2009, occupied the gallery’s largest space and was the exhibition’s focus, it was not the most engaging work shown. Reminiscent of one of Olafur Eliasson’s quasi-scientific experiments, it suffered from a disproportion between the technology employed and the esthetic result. Kwade’s installation consisted of 11 loudspeakers amplifying and projecting the otherwise inaudible noise made by the room’s neon-strip lighting onto 11 curved plates of lacquered and polished steel. Each sheet’s curvature is modeled on an individual sine wave function, resulting in a sound wave interference pattern that took viewers “by the ear” and moved them from one component to the next. While apparently referring to a theory in speculative physics proposing an 11-dimensional reality, The Day without Yesterday did little more than remind us of the artist’s soft spot for shiny, mirrored surfaces.
But treasures are found where we least expect them—here, at the intersection of floor and wall, where a mysterious sheet of curved glass lay furled like a fallen piece of paper. A glimpse at the ceiling raised the question, could one of the panels of the skylight have sailed down to the floor like a leaf? While there was no missing windowpane to support the conjecture, it is precisely this kind of unreasonable thought, wherein we imagine a malleable and indestructible sheet of glass, that illustrates the power of this young artist’s work.
Time and again, Kwade leads the viewer to assume impossibilities that reach far beyond simple trompe l’oeil. Outside the gallery two silver-colored Nissan Micras were parked at an angle, mirroring each other. A rusty dent, caused by a road accident, above one of the car’s headlights is mimicked by a meticulously fabricated dent in the other car. Their juxtaposition created a headlong collision between an accident and its reenactment, and lured viewers to position themselves between the two matched elements—the space that the artist in many other works has reserved for a mirror.
Photo: Alicja Kwade: The Day without Yesterday (Dimensions 1-11), 2009, steel, black varnish, speakers and mixed mediums, 11 parts; at Johann König.