To a culture that perceives art as a globally accessible product, transmitted and received at the click of a mouse, the Thai artist Udomsak Krisanamis’s work might well seem solipsistically self-referential. His paintings record nothing so much as the labor of their making; he is a golfer, and his shows are rife with references to the sport; his films—brief loops shot on a cell phone—are modest autobiographical distillations of quotidian particularity. And yet, step back, and he is sketching—with characteristically dry humor—a critical commentary on the international shop window of postmodernism, its presumption to speak across all boundaries.
At Kunstverein Freiburg, a huge headline, painted directly on the wall in block capitals, proclaimed GLOBAL INVESTMENTS. It might have been an enlargement of one of the newspaper snippets Krisanamis glues to his collages. Was the line referring to the abstract paintings hanging below? The words came across loud and clear, although they were surrounded by suggestions of dissent. “SOOP SIP”—painted on the adjacent wall within a sky blue speech bubble—is a phonetic translation of a Thai gossip column logo, meaning “rumors,” although the tail of the bubble absurdly indicated the concrete floor as its source. So much for the voice of the mass media. The paintings—each 5 by 3¼ feet and dated 2011—are composed of loose bands of black acrylic almost entirely obscuring the brightly colored grounds. These forms might have been adapted from the headline fonts, converting their facile communication into a muting of expression. Inarticulacy is proffered as an alternative to the glib exchange of information. Destabilized and deconstructed by the surrounding works, GLOBAL INVESTMENTS read like words ranted in a language the speaker does not understand.
The sequence of paintings formed a generic late-modernist hang of upright rectangles, a configuration that is simultaneously formal abstraction, minimal decor, and one manifestation of established art market value—a type of “global investment”—which conforms to a venerable template handed down by Rothko, Reinhardt, Rauschenberg, Stella, etc. This is the picture one might glean from an installation shot. The vertically applied paint was diversified by a few horizontal white lines spanning the panorama like a horizon. Up close, this view was replaced by a tactile impression of landscape, the densely layered acrylic rutted and grooved like dried-out mud—a metaphorical switch from global distance to local perception. The viewer was conveyed beyond the linear syntax of language into an incrementally gathered field of temporally ambiguous materiality that might have been designed to be perceived by the fingertips, like Braille.
The vertical black bands of paint and the compressed capital letters found a three-dimensional counterpart in 100 wooden sculptures—models of enlarged golf tees, upturned to resemble model missiles. Brilliant Mistake (2011) takes the cliché of golf as a Western recreation for the financially flush and extends it in various directions: to color the GLOBAL INVESTMENTS line with suggestions of both military aggression and bland leisure; and to claim the paintings as another indulgence of moneyed free time, an implication the artisanal labor of their making resists. The golfer might be a painter or a collector; the painter a worker or a producer of cultural capital. Krisanamis exposes himself in all these guises before proceeding to generate irony at their expense. A glass cabinet contained “merchandise”—handbags printed with an exhibition logo, figurines of swinging golfers and a turntable playing a 1950s golf tutorial (Country Club Shop, 2011). It mimicked the convention of a golf club’s pro shop, but its wares were the artist’s personal trinkets as much as a collection of commodity ciphers. Krisanamis risks fusing subjective expression and objective critique, as distinct from so many current artists who keep their hands patronizingly clean by assuming not to partake in the production process they critique.
Upstairs, three monitors on cheap packing crates played medleys of films: a New York Ferris wheel, an amusement park in Bangkok, Krisanamis’s baby daughter sleeping under a mosquito net. The images straddled continents and cultures, the private and the symbolic. Similarly, a series of collages on packing cardboard combined capitalistic jargon—MONEY GAME, YEAR OF HIGH CRASH, THREAT OF CURRENCY WAR—with Ab-Ex drips and smears of paint. The cut-out headlines interpreted the drips as cartoon rhetoric: Crash! Splash! A final exception featured the phrase AN ORDINARY GOLFER. By satirizing his own subjectivity—his painterly gestures and his artistic persona—Krisanamis challenges the presumed congruence between local experience and the squeaks and shouts of the global media and the global art world it increasingly subsumes.