Something seemed off as you approached the room’s only column. It rose to just a couple of inches short of the ceiling beam and rested on an unprimed canvas. Turns out it was a sculpture, as was a nearby table dis- playing a selection of framed works on paper. The artist, Thomas Scheibitz, is a master thwarter of expectations.
In his work (here, all 2011), Scheibitz achieves ingenious ambiguations using conventional operations like masking and limning, and ordinary tools like straightedges. Backgrounds press forward; borders nudge ahead of the schematic forms they surround. Resemblances are minimized or teasingly generalized. Compositions can look extremely simplified, as in diagrams, logos or writing, but their signlike appearance rarely conveys anything specific.
One small painting, Untitled (No. 632), used the entire 40-foot-long north wall of the gallery as a mat, into which a custom-fitted, tilted niche was cut. The painting’s fluorescent pigment glows like a light in broad swipes subdivided by geometric bars that suggest window mullions or the stretcher’s cross-bracing. Fifteen additional small paintings with semiabstract imagery encircled the room, while in the exhibition’s second space the nearly 10-foot-long A Panoramic VIEW of Basic Events (also the exhibition’s title) depicts what seem
to be nine smaller abstract paintings arranged in a grid, each made up of cartoonish, geometric forms.
The show also included five off- set prints resembling bulletin-board collages, the elements taken from Scheibitz’s large archive of magazine clippings, photos and drawings. Rhyming shapes and color affinities suggest a way of thinking with pictures that is both formal and associative. The prints recall the image walls anthropologist/art historian Aby Warburg assembled in the 1920s to explore transhistorical connections among cultural artifacts. Warburg characterized certain images as “dynamograms” that wait to be reactivated by the interpretations of succeeding eras. Scheibitz uses Warburg’s method more playfully, entangling issues of display and content. More than a meta-pictorialist reflecting on art and history, Scheibitz emphasizes how improvisa- tory processes produce a quality of vitality and invention in finished objects. Devoted in equal measure to his source materials and to his craft, Scheibitz proposes skill as both a theme and a tool.
The Austrian satirist Karl Kraus wrote: “The artist is the one who knows how to make an enigma out of a solution.” Scheibitz’s enigmas arise from his solution to an old problem: how to make fresh artworks when it seems like pretty much everything has already been done.
Photo: Thomas Scheibitz: A Panoramic VIEW of Basic Events, 2011, oil, lacquer, vinyl, pigment marker, and spray paint on canvas, 74 3/4 by 114 1/8 inches; at Tanya Bonakdar.