For his first exhibition in New York, Florian Meisenberg confronted the enduring predicament of the supposed death of painting with an installation that paired new paintings with recent digital videos. The title of the exhibition, “Faith so certain shall never be shaken by heaviest sorrow” (a quotation borrowed from the Bhagavad Gita), points to its driving force: a sincere conviction of painting’s continued relevance, albeit as one form of mediation among many in an era of digital media. Having studied with Peter Doig at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Meisenberg, a German-born transplant to New York, deftly handles color and revels in the textural qualities of oil paint. In the show’s five large paintings (all 2013), he mines the theatrical possibilities of his medium, both in Harold Rosenberg’s sense of painting as “an arena in which to act” and in the overall installation. Meisenberg created the works by alternately pouring, daubing, dripping and smearing paint into amorphous shapes. Linseed oil (“paintless paint,” as Meisenberg calls it) had also soaked into the unprimed canvas, resulting in dark, translucent stains. The works were hung on bare metal studs at odd angles in the gallery, forming a series of proscenium-like viewing spaces.
The new paintings are less figural than his earlier work, in which images of body parts abound; instead Meisenberg assembled a cast of formal references to the history of abstract painting. Cy Twombly-like squiggles hover near Matissean window frames. Despite their soft palette, poured and dripped forms recall those of Color Field heavyweights like Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis.
The four videos on view each extended the flat space of the canvas to the screen. In the video “its not quite what I wanted, but its ok” (2012), a short, static shot of birds alighting in a shallow diorama suggests a theatrical format that echoed the configuration of paintings in the gallery. In the best of the videos, “acting & aging (odorless journey) / / postmodern exercises,” 2013, Meisenberg records his manipulation of multiple windows on his computer desktop, playing, pausing, resizing and layering videos in a compositional dance made up of small gestures and tweaks. A video playing in one window depicts an art history book open to what appears to be a drawing by Michelangelo. The book is propped up by ink cartridges and boxes of pastels, some used by a disembodied hand to color the corners of the page. In another window, a video that tracks street water runoff along a roadside curb playfully forms the “ground” of the digital composition.
Meisenberg has made similar videos of computer-desktop performances before and has occasionally posted them on YouTube. Though they explore the connections between analog and digital production—and are related to the artistic adjustments at play in his painting process—the videos also imply a different space of circulation. While they came into surprisingly easy conversation with the paintings in the exhibition (the desktop window restates the old metaphor of the painted canvas as a window), they did not break the boundaries between mediums. The canvas may be just another interface, but it is enriched by the history of painting, which is both the source of and challenge to Meisenberg’s “faith so certain.”