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Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston presents first U.S. museum survey of Charline von Heyl
Charline von Heyl, Lazybone Shuffle, 2010. Acrylic on linen, 82 x 76 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.

BOSTON, MA.- This March, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston opened the first U.S. museum survey of Charline von Heyl, a compelling and important artist whose work offers new ideas and possibilities for painting, and demonstrates the medium’s continued relevance in contemporary art. Von Heyl’s canvases are not abstractions of objects or figures; instead, she is interested in inventing a new image that has not yet been seen and that “stands for itself as a fact.” With their intentional confusion of foreground and background, their dynamic energy, and their contradictions and reversals, these paintings require (and desire) careful looking, but refuse to yield to the impulse to name, identify, or define. Organized by ICA Senior Curator Jenelle Porter, Charline von Heyl includes 12 paintings and two sets of collage-based works on paper tracing the development of von Heyl’s work over the past five years. The exhibition is on view at the ICA from March 21 through July 15, 2012.

“Charline von Heyl’s paintings pull you in at first glance,” said Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA. “Her bold abstractions – ambiguous, powerful and playful – evoke complex sensations and invite multiple viewings. We are delighted to present her first U.S. survey at the ICA and to introduce Boston audiences to her work.”

A wide range of imagery influences von Heyl’s painting. Once the first strokes of paint are applied to canvas, von Heyl lets the work develop according to the process of its making—destroying and creating one gesture after another until something wholly unexpected is forged on the surface. Von Heyl’s collage-based drawings are included alongside her paintings, charting the important visual relationships between the two mediums. Largely black and white, these works on paper combine drawing, painting, woodcut, silkscreen, and lithography, and are defined by a wild overflow of energy. They are sometimes more conventionally legible than the paintings, their source images less transformed.

“Von Heyl typically alternates her time between painting and drawing,” said Porter. “For her, they are two separate modes of making, very much divided into two separate time periods and even two separate studio spaces. Whereas the drawing studio is a free space for experimentation, the painting studio is a place to test the theories.”

Included in the exhibition is Yellow Guitar (2010), a meditation on the still life genre that nods to the work of David Hockney and Juan Gris. In this painting, a still life has been imposed upon the surface of something quite its opposite: a gestural underpainting in charcoal and smudged black spray paint. A grid of thin yellow strokes outlined in black—a device that follows from von Heyl’s drawing experiments—lays itself across another grid, this one painted primarily in solid yellow and white squares, creating an aggressive dissonance. At top, a third grid in black and white unfolds itself. Two recognizable objects surface atop the overlapping grids: a brick red bottle with a yellow label and a wood-handled knife. These items hint that all of the other unidentified shapes might also be objects—just ones we don’t recognize.

Von Heyl describes the sensation she seeks to create in her work: “It is about the feeling that a painting, or any work of art, can give—when you can’t stop looking because there is something that you want to find out, that you want to understand…. Good paintings have this tantalizing quality. And once you turn around, you absolutely cannot recapture them. They leave a hole in the mind, a longing.”

Charline von Heyl was born in Germany in 1960 and studied painting with Jörg Immendorff in Hamburg and Fritz Schwegler in Düsseldorf. She has lived in New York since 1994. Von Heyl’s work has been the subject of solo museum exhibitions at Le Consortium, Dijon, France (2009), the Dallas Museum of Art (2009), and the Vienna Secession (2004). Group exhibitions include Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2008) and Make Your Own Life: Artists In and Out of Cologne (2006) organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. A mural by the artist is currently on view at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts. Von Heyl’s works are in the collections of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.

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