A new direction in Gitte Schäfer’s work was evident in “Stellio,” her second solo exhibition at Lullin + Ferrari. Schäfer, who was born in Germany in 1972 and is now based in rural Switzerland, filled the walls of the gallery’s main room with her signature collages and assemblages harbored in small, repurposed frames. But the anteroom hosted two striking, large works that marked a departure for her.
One was Sogno (Dream, all works 2013), a shallow, green metal tray about 7 feet wide and 4 feet tall, mounted on a wall. Found objects attached to the tray transform it into a landscape. On the left, a pale metal disk evokes a distant planet, while to the right, a fencer’s mask atop a wisp of driftwood suggests a diminutive, implike figure. The blank face of the mask brings to mind the expressionless dressmakers’ mannequins of Giorgio de Chirico. The elements are animated by a rusty scarification on the metal, which generates a dynamic ground.
The second large work was Chute Douce (Soft Fall), an approximately 6-by-3-foot piece of found metal, this time a corrugated sheet with a murky red, brown and pale green patina of rust and weathering. Attached vertically to the wall and threaded at the top with a fine brass pole, it forms a kind of curtain, improbably positioned mid-wall as if masking a tall, narrow window where none would be. Whereas Sogno has an immediacy and associative charm, Chute Douce is austere. Here Schäfer picks up the Surrealist baton by suggesting functionality while delivering absurdity.
The more intimate works in the exhibition, though less surprising, continued to delight. None are larger than around 2 feet high. Each contains scavenged objects, including feathers, toys, musical instruments, stones, fabric and ceramics in found frames, many of which are gilded. Whether the items are affixed directly to their backgrounds or sit on narrow shelves at the bottom of the frames, they embody varying degrees of allusiveness. Some are abstractions, displaying a formalist’s concern for shape and color, as in Shards/Les cassés (Shards/The Broken), a dappled impressionistic composition fashioned from fragments of clear, bottle-green and azure glass. In some instances, however, the materials do not entirely relinquish their original purposes or significations. The verticals in Forest of Flutes, for example—a cluster of wooden recorders topped with feathers, a pipe or cords, among other accretions—read first as the group of instruments that constitute (and name) them, and then as a motley crowd, some characters a little plump, others rangy.
Schäfer openly acknowledges her debt to the artists who inspire her, particularly the Surrealists; Stone Women (after Meret Oppenheim), for example, is a burly figure made up of pebbles that references Oppenheim’s 1938 painting Stone-woman. Schäfer can be observed building on their legacy, as well as on a productive strain of Swiss irreverence developed by artists like Fischli and Weiss and Urs Fischer. At a small scale, her pieces are highly effective at loosening everyday objects from their original meanings and infusing them with unexpected possibilities and associations. This exhibition demonstrated that Schäfer’s process succeeds on a larger scale, too, and with greater drama. We can only hope for more.