Avery Singer

Pictures Punish Words


The technically and iconographically striking paintings of Avery Singer (born in 1987, lives and works in New York) thwart our visual expectations. At an initial glance, they resist a clear classification of painting or printing processes. Hence her works raise the obvious and artistically pressing question of how the digital information that surrounds us can materialize itself – be it as a flat image on paper or more recently in 3-D in plastic, or on and in every other possible material surface. Avery Singer has created a cycle of works specifically for this first institutional solo exhibition. Following its presentation in Zurich, the exhibition will be shown at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin
(12 February – 12 April 2015).

While the analysis of painting has been an ongoing concern for Avery Singer since 2010, she also experiments and explores imaging processes. Her motifs are inspired by the seemingly infinite flood of images on the Internet. She also processes everyday occurrences and realities in her paintings and repeatedly finds inspiration in literature. With the help of the graphic program SketchUp, which is used for 3-D modeling in architecture, Avery Singer constructs complex spatial compositions filled with abstracted figures and objects. In the course of this process, the motifs are translated into geometric forms and reduced to simple elements: hair becomes zigzag lines, eyebrows straighten, arms turn into blocks and the female bosom becomes an asymmetrical polygonal outgrowth of the body. Singer projects these computer-generated sketches onto a canvas or panel, separating the forms from each other using masking tape and creating surfaces on the canvas in a grey palette with airbrush. Through their rejection of color, these works follow the tradition of Grisaille – a style of painting that featured predominantly in medieval panel painting and the Renaissance, and was frequently used for the translation of sculptures into painting. The airbrush technique heightens the planarity of the painting surface to an extreme and contrasts with the illusionistic spatiality of the image compositions, an approach that broaches and further develops questions relating to art history and perception. As trompe-l’oeils, the large-format works open up spaces that invite the viewer to walk into them, or at least risk a look behind the canvas to see whether another space lies behind it. The planarity of the canvas is also ruptured by the form of the presentation: By allowing the paintings to float freely in the space on delicate metal cables, rather than opting for the traditional wall hanging, the artist creates a spatial constellation in the exhibition by using the paintings themselves.

Both the physical characteristics and themes of Singer’s paintings always refer to the history of art and their own emergence, that is the stories and problems associated with the creation of art or images. Allusions to the motifs and styles of classic modernism and to post-modernist debates can be identified in her works. The question is also raised as to the impact of the shifts in meaning resulting from the conditions of digitality and virtuality on the artistic sphere today and, particularly also, the medium of painting. The insignias of the “fine arts” collide with avant-garde tropes, and parodic-autobiographical motifs constantly allude to clichés of the art world. Adopting a humorous tone, Avery Singer demonstrates rituals and social patterns and presents stereotypes of the artist, curator, collector and writer. In this context, she adopts the historical loci of art production– the studio, the art college and the institutional space – where the myth of the artist and cult of genius are fostered: How are artists made? How is art made?
The group of people in the work Happening (2014) are trapped in the act of art production. The snapshot presented in this work is inspired by documentary photographs, which Singer regularly encounters in her research on performance art, and evokes the happenings of the 1960s. The work entitled Director (2014) also refers to artistic activity. It is a portrait of a recorder player who can be interpreted as an artist or, as indicated by the title, a director. The musical instrument, which tends to be played by children, allows the figure to become an entertainer and is reminiscent of the musician at the royal court, or even the court jester. As Avery Singer points out, the painting also refers to the idea of awareness as an internal model constructed by the brain. Just like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, whose music seduced the children to follow him, we, as art viewers, may surrender our selves to the seduction of the recorder player presented in this painting.

In the painting Gerty MacDowell’s Playbook (2014) Avery Singer links Vito Acconci’s performance piece Seedbed (1972) with a scene from James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The work shows a kneeling woman on a table-like structure, who is bending forward with one leg and arm raised. In the space below her, we see another figure, whose gaze is directed at the viewer and is masturbating. The presentation relates to a scene in Joyce’s novel, in which the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, masturbates on the beach while Gerty MacDowell, who is sunbathing, exposes her underwear to him. The structure on which the two figures are presented also refers to the double wooden floor which Acconci built for the performance piece Seedbed at the Sonnabend Gallery in 1972 where he lay hidden underneath a ramp, masturbating to and fantasizing about the visitors walking above him. The avant-garde literary and art-history settings of these temporally and spatially removed – and seemingly unrelated – works are linked to form a new image through the theme of male masturbation.

Singer’s imaginative memory of her first visit to Switzerland becomes the backdrop for the work Heidiland (2014). Overflowing with “exotic” impressions of the mountains, the different dialects and the legendary Zurich’ street parade, the artist catapults Johanna Spyri’s Swiss heroine Heidi from 1880 into the present as a Swiss raver equipped with a pacifier reminiscent of the universal accessory of the 1990s techno scene. With a humorous reference to the art-history motif of the female toilette, Avery Singer has her raver arrange her hair so that the curls fall on her pert bare breasts – a grown-up Heidi from the “new” world.