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Tauba Auerbach: Tetrachromat opens at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels
Tauba Auerbach, Tetrachromat, Bergen Kunsthall, Norway, 2011. Courtesy of the artist, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Standard (Oslo), Oslo. Photographer: Vegard Kleven.

BRUSSELS.- Tauba Auerbach is considered one of the most innovative painters of our time. Her work collapses traditional distinctions between image, dimensionality and content. Surface and the larger issues surrounding topology have been central concerns in her recent paintings, drawings, photographs and artist books.

The title of the exhibition refers to a theory that there may be a small percentage of people – for genetic reasons, only women – who have a fourth type of colour receptor on their retinas. Most humans are trichromats, with receptors sensitive to red, green and blue wavelengths of light which combine to create the spectrum of visible colours. The tetrachromat, supposedly equipped with an extra variable that modulates every one of these colors, would therefore see distinctions between colours that are invisible to the trichromat.

Although Auerbach draws much of her inspiration from mathematics and physics, her visual output intersects equally with the basic themes of art history. Her paintings raise fundamental issues in new ways, among them the depiction of three-dimensional reality on a two-dimensional surface, and the relationship between abstraction and representation. Auerbach interweaves disorder and order, readability and abstraction, permeability and solidity – phenomena that are usually viewed as incompatible – into unified surfaces and volumes.

Since 2009, Auerbach has created a body of work she calls the Folds. In these paintings, she twists and folds the canvas, ironing or pressing it so that the creases become embedded in the material. After some time, the creased canvas is spread out on the floor and sprayed at oblique angles with various colors of paint. The result – after the paint has dried and the canvas has been stretched flat – is an almost perfect registration of the previous three-dimensional condition of the same surface. The canvas conveys a trompe l’oeil effect, harkening back to the tradition of mimetic painting, though in this case it is based on inventiveness rather than painterly virtuosity. By way of blurring the boundary between the two- and three-dimensional states of the canvas, these paintings can be understood as an analogy – raising the possibility of similarly eroding the boundary between three-dimensions and four (or more).

The Fold paintings directly address the technology of painting itself, where the mechanical qualities specific to the medium are exploited. At the same time, the works behave in ways we associate with other media. Recalling the photographic process, the painting is ‘developed’ over the course of its exposure to the spray. The pigment acts like directional light; contrasts and contours are intensified by a longer exposure or a more extreme angle.

Tetrachromat also introduces a new series of paintings, the Weaves. In these works, the artist exploits two strategies, one monochrome, the other bicolored. Building these paintings from the ground up, Auerbach uses only the woven structure to articular surfaces, spaces and images. In some of the works she depicts three planes meeting in at a corner, and in others rays of light, heat waves and surface ruptures. The monochromatic Weaves draw on the tetrachromat’s ability to see variety among colours that appear the same to the trichromat.

Auerbach often works in series that use both digital and older, craft-based methodologies such as sign painting, cuineiform or, as here, weaving – not for nostalgic reasons, but to bring ideas surrounding ‘technology’ into relief. So it is perhaps natural that the Weaves appear pixelated. The hallmark of digital technology emerges in one of the oldest binary structures invented by man.

The central work in the show is a set of books, the RGB Colorspace Atlas. In this work, the artist has taken a commonly used spatial model for colour – the RGB cube – and sliced it in each of the three dimensions in which it exists. Bound into books, one is able to thumb through the entire spectrum, to stand outside and manipulate the ‘colour space’ that trichromats occupy. Auerbach presents several other book pieces in this exhibition, all of which function as manuals for thinking about the project by constantly revolving around the question, ‘How can we imagine that which is impossible to sense?’ Taken together, the works propose a relationship between a sensitivity to a fourth range of colour and the ability to experience a fourth spatial dimension. The exhibition ecstatically entertains both possibilities.

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