Charline Von Heyl’s Paintings Treat Structure Like a Game

Charline Von Heyl | Cultured Mag | by Gaby Collins-Fernandez


Within moments of arriving at “Snake Eyes,” Charline von Heyl’s retrospective at the Hirshhorn, a guard asked me if I knew the secret to Melencolia (2008), a painting divided into numbered squares, many of which are blocked by a large, orb-ish mass. Every row and column had to add up to 34, he said. “Do you want to know the numbers that you can’t see?” he asked me. “I’ve been looking at it for a while, so I figured it out.” He told me and I immediately forgot. I wanted to ask the guard what those numbers meant for him, literally hidden and yet illuminated: if they helped to pass the time, if he imagined away the globe in the center of the painting in order to place each numeral in its logically required square, which seemed to me a madness. Of course, madness is Melencolia’s gray moon, the primordial and almost Chagall-ish vortex hearkening back to Dürer’s etching of the same name and the bad luck of black bile. An artist wants to conjure the spirit and finds that they have tools only to measure that desire.

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