Sunday, 16 September 2007



(First published 9th October 2006)

A recent review of the work of the acclaimed Berlin-based painter (Art News, Sept 06, p154) could only classify his work as ’third generation James Rosenquist’, ‘built upon billboard dramatics’ and a trivial demonstration of Photoshop. But it’s hard to see any of that in the accompanying reproduction or in others available on the web. Actually his work bears almost no relation to Rosenquist’s concerns with the slickness or sleekness of billboard illustration. It is neither Rosenquist’s dated billboard technique nor Photoshop filters that Ackermann draws upon, but several more recent and pervasive influences.

More relevantly, Ackermann typically reduces depiction to single colours in silhouettes and elsewhere to basic volumes that recall CAD projections rather than Photoshop and in this, shares something with fellow German Torben Giehler and many others. But Ackermann also arranges objects into elaborate schemes or models that stand as metaphors for underlying social and economic structures. They refer to very abstract ideas, but they are also interesting for the way they recast abstraction in pictures.

Ackerman is hardly alone in this and there are precedents and parallels that help us to see his contribution. The diagrammatic or schematic picture basically provides a kind of layout for smaller, more concrete pictures, links them together like a flow diagram say, organising stages and elements. Crucially, concrete objects are isolated, in a separate picture plane, and pictured in a banal or perfunctory way, allowing a clear distinction between elements and overall scheme. This style of picture properly arises in the 80s in artists as diverse as David Wojnarowicz and ]Lari Pittman. Later versions relax the difference between elements and scheme, seek a more three-dimensional model and arrive at schemes variously mechanical or organic.

A more interesting comparison for Ackermann in this regard is the work of American-based Englishman Matthew Ritchie. Ritchie, like Ackermann occasionally produces work as temporary murals for shows that strive for an all-encompassing model, incorporating floors, ceilings, and related objects. Ritchie also revels in complex geometries and volumes, but where Ackermann tends to hard edges and rigid volumes - to mechanical models, Ritchie’s looser, flowing lines and irregular volumes suggest the organic

Other recent artists drawn to the metaphoric diagram include Fred Tomaselli and Mark Lombardi. Lombardi’s work literally arrives at flow charts for various economic and political intrigues. But for Ackermann the pull is not towards captions and the concrete but towards matters of overall design or pattern. He often arrives at a diagram or model that leaves little concrete or three-dimensional, that finally mocks the idea of a model. In this he returns to the implicit mysticism that underlies the history of abstract painting. The single colours for ambiguous silhouettes ultimately undermine volumes and depth, urge abstraction upon abstraction.

This cusp to full abstraction continues to prove fertile ground for painting, even if rarely recognised in commentary. Many more links could be added to demonstrate the current depth and variety to this project, but that is really the job of other entries.

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