Art Seen: National

DAVID WEISS // SWISS INSTITUTE

by Tara Plath

Something Sinister

The collection of works on paper by Swiss artist David Weiss, most prominently known as half of the collaboration Fischili/Weiss, grant the viewer fresh insight into the artist’s process and interests. Where Fischili and Weiss’ more popular work together rests on odd-ball conceptualism and often playful compositions of found material in video and photography—with David Weiss: Works 1968–1979, currently on view at Swiss Institute, sketches and quips wander into darker territories.

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David Weiss, installation view. Image courtesy Swiss Institute / Contemporary Art, 2015.

The exhibition is composed of paintings and sketchbook pages, which Weiss began to organize and document shortly preceding his death in 2012. Weiss’ compositions, with their elegant line work and use of the paper as positive space, are at once highly polished and loose. The larger works range from cityscapes, highways scenes, comics and language-based paintings, primarily in ink, watercolor and gauche. They create a sense of familiarity, such as the monochromatic landscapes of an unnamed city nestled in the hills or the silhouette of cars driving past pools of light in comic style. At the same time, there is something sinister in the lack of narrative, the absence of detail, the repetition that creates the subtlest sense of unease. The unease feels unfounded until one encounters to the collection of small sketches on the upper-level of the Swiss Institute.

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David Weiss, installation view. Image courtesy Swiss Institute / Contemporary Art, 2015.

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David Weiss, installation view. Image courtesy Swiss Institute / Contemporary Art, 2015.

The sketches have a lightness to them, at first glance, but a closer look reveals caricatures of violence and unrest: abstract ruminations on religion, a doodle of an aloof man stabbed in the back, a strangled bird, “Paranoia City” scrawled on paper, with a figure running fast below it. Imagery and ideas that are not uniquely disturbing, but perhaps just observations of the way things are in slapstick style. The framed drawings stretch across the long wall in an unceasing stream of consciousness in small icon drawings that morph and warp.

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David Weiss, Ohne Titel, 1977. Image courtesy of Swiss Institute / Contemporary Art, 2015.

The small scale drawings, seemingly pulled out of sketchbooks, reveal the extent of Weiss’ visual vocabulary. As a whole, the exhibition articulates Weiss’ ability to express space, motion, and his particular world view with equal parts ease and precision.

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David Weiss, Ohne Titel, 1962. Image courtesy of Swiss Institute / Contemporary Art, 2015.

 

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Tara Plath is an artist and writer based in New York City. She holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture and a Bachelors of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

David Weiss: Works 1968–1979 on view at Swiss Institute runs through February 22, 2015.

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