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Reading Rämistrasse #78: Rebecka Domig on Alex Hubbard at Eva Presenhuber - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Reading Rämistrasse #78: Rebecka Domig on Alex Hubbard at Eva Presenhuber

Yeah, sex is cool, but have you ever tried looking at Alex Hubbard’s paintings? I mean, really looking at them, trying to peel off layer after layer of imagery and blocked color, only to have your gaze stumble over the thick crusted urethane drippings, ​​a jolting reminder that you are looking at a flat surface? Urethane. Read it as You’re a thing, as Hubbard jokingly titled one particular painting in 2020. Poured on the canvas and subsequently overpainted with oil, the materials react with one another, leaving the artist with layers of varying opacity that range from viscous to semi-transparent.

In a departure to earlier works, the eight new paintings on view at Eva Presenhuber (Waldmannstrasse) feature an abundance of figurative elements, such as nuts and bolts, plastic pipes, a brass instrument, a crocodile with three eyes – perhaps –, a sausage, cigarette and car tire. From here on out, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure story. One work, entitled 24 International Smash Hits features a security booth with a camera, a heater, an oil canister and a plastic container of sorts, tethered to a rope. The mundane thing-ness of these elements is offset by bright color fields in purple, green and turquoise. The composition features enough straight lines and blank space to keep the chaos in check. If you’re looking for balance, you’ve come to the right place.

Installation view, Alex Hubbard, Staircase Descending A Nude, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Waldmannstrasse, Zurich, 2022

© Alex Hubbard
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York
Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zurich

Originally from Oregon, where he received his formal training, Alex Hubbard currently lives and works in Los Angeles. His work straddles both painting and film, and the visual language is congruent. Fittingly, the current exhibition in Zurich also features the single-channel video The Border, The Ship II (a first version of this work dates back to 2011), shown in the gallery’s back room. The video is made up of gravity-defying superimposed sequences that echo the energy and themes found in the paintings. Deliberately, or not, the video sound (the whirring of a turning wheel, audio static, the sound of splattering paint) seeps into the main gallery space, claiming a presence as a soundtrack for the paintings and underscoring the pictured mechanical artefacts. The Italian Futurists come to mind, Marinetti and his gang, and their unwavering optimism in the technological advances of their time – more so than Duchamp’s painting from that same decade that the exhibition title (Staircase descending a nude) references.

Speaking on artistic production during pandemic conditions, Alex Hubbard points out that the act of painting is lonely in and of itself. When Covid hit, this state of being was accelerated. ‘So it was like peak loneliness’, Alex Hubbard said in an interview. The artist would spend 12 hours a day in front of a painting. ‘Everything was canceled initially, and it was hard to work. No deadlines, no shows to look at, just the books in the studio and time.' The works shown in Zürich are not from that exact time period, but from 2021, or Year 2 of the pandemic. As much as things have changed, things have remained the same. If you find traces of pandemic circumstances in these new paintings, beware: there’s a fair chance you are just mirroring your own experience, now. Alex Hubbard’s works are engaging precisely because of how little they spell out. Looking at his paintings requires that you fill the gaps made up of blank spaces and layered colour fields, adding what you may to the works to create meaning. In that sense, the verdict will always be out: viscous or toothless – what paintings you encounter will be left, dear reader, for you to determine.

Alex Hubbard, Staircase Descending a Nude, Eva Presenhuber, Waldmannstrasse 6
8 January–19 February 2022

Reading Rämistrasse

Geht der Raum für Kunstkritik verloren, müssen wir handeln. Deswegen schaffen wir diesen Ort für Kritik – Reading Rämistrasse – auf der Webseite der Kunsthalle Zürich und veröffentlichen Rezensionen zu aktuellen Ausstellungen in Zürich. Diese geben nicht die Meinung der Kunsthalle Zürich wieder, denn Kritik muss unabhängig sein.

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