Thomas Zipp’s art evinces a romanticism that its postmodernist methods designate as obsolete. It is a paradox his irony strives to justify. A little over a decade ago, when his paintings of gloomy clouds looming out of a dark horizon first began to appear, they seemed to be disavowing his painterly virtuosity with the inarticulate textual elements superimposed onto their illusionistic depths. Post-punk design of the 1980s, 1960s psychedelia and 1930s Futurism were staple stylistic allusions. His job was to make credible as satire the travesty of framing art history as a reservoir of plunderable references.
Zipp’s paintings have increasingly become the decor of elaborate installations, but their alchemical transformations still ground his theatrics in specificity. Textual trimmings, hand-painted or collaged onto the canvases, remain thrillingly peripheral, as if to demonstrate the comparative weakness of linguistic reference beside the potential complexity of pictorial invention. And yet the five paintings at Baudach formed a salable suite of decorative backdrops unsuccessfully pitched as integral to the sprawling installation surrounding them. The laboriously graphic A.B.: RRRRRRRR (2014) resembles a post-punk version of modernist constructivism. Chrome block capital letters, S’s and R’s, are attached to the canvas surface—a characteristic conflation of acronym and stutter, functional abbreviation and dysfunctional blockage. The faded palette produces an aged effect, like a photograph digitally filtered to look “period.”
This effect was picked up by the installation, which doubled as the set of the opening night’s performance. Four immaculate, identical guitar and drum-kit combos, complete with Gibson Les Paul electric guitars, formed a series of deluxe readymades. Temporary architecture halved the open-plan space into two semi-interior areas. A kitchen set with vintage stools, kettle and a flip-top trash can occupied one section. Elements from the 1960s and ’70s were mixed with new pots and pans, exacerbating a sense of conflicted signification. The conjunction of attractively outdated kitchen utensils and perfectly preserved, or re-created, rock instruments suggested a critique of retro culture’s reduction of the relics of pop history to the toys of the idly affluent. But then, as a member himself of an affluent cultural elite who can afford to stock his show with these shiny lifestyle accessories, how credible is this presentation as critique rather than symptom? In the adjacent area, five cots contained life-size “Resusci Anne” dolls, produced in the 1970s as training tools for resuscitation methods, their mottled plastic faces and shrunken torsos provocatively gruesome. For the opening performance, assistants in white jumpsuits paraded the dolls around the gallery in conjunction with live music. Zipp glued their eyes shut for their subsequent sleep through the remainder of the exhibition.
Part performative aftermath, part theatrical playground, part retro pop-cultural tribute, the installation was a jumble of ill-matched signifiers. Three rows of old school stools were arranged in the open-plan main space. Unoccupied, they suggested an empty theater, a sign that this is art intended to communicate to an audience. But what distinguishes Zipp’s better paintings is their inordinate solipsism. Of the five in this exhibition, only A.B.: Dream of Sep. (PATTEX), 2014, had any trace of this quality. A plant pot—a familiar Zipp motif—raised hand- and footprints on tendrils. Underneath, the word PATTEX was printed-a brand of glue Zipp sniffed in his youth. The hand- and footprints resembled birds spreading wings as much as flowers blooming. In the prosaic context of the installation, this was a brief taste of the more rarefied atmosphere of metaphor. The human prints had become animal or plant, symbolically refuting our desire to humanize a painting through our imaginative empathy with it. They remained aloof from the functional give-and-take between audience and spectacle that the rest of the exhibition was so brazenly promoting.