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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‘Making a Painting More Alive’: Charline von Heyl’s Hirshhorn Museum Survey Is a Master Class in Abstraction

Charline von Heyl | ArtNews | By Phyllis Tuchman


Charline von Heyl’s career has experienced some dramatic ups and downs over the past year. A solo show of her latest paintings made a big splash when it opened the New York art season last September. The effusive critical notices attracted crowds to Petzel gallery in Chelsea. Two months later, “Snake Eyes,” a survey of 36 works by von Heyl from 2005 to the present, debuted at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. However, when the federal government shut down, the show got caught in the crosshairs. With the closing date for the exhibition looming, it looked as if many people wouldn’t get the chance to see the work on view, which had been lauded by many reviewers. But, wonderfully, when the Hirshhorn reopened along with other local institutions, its leadership extended it through April 21.

“Snake Eyes” is a compelling exhibition by an intriguing painter. German-born and New York–based, von Heyl, 59, executes work that deserves to be experienced in depth. It’s easy enough to admire one of her canvases or collages at an art fair, but by not seeing lots of them in one venue, you miss the opportunity to be dumbfounded by the variety of ways she solves aesthetic problems.

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Charline von Heyl: Snake Eyes at Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C.

Charline von Heyl, P., 2008. Acrylic and crayons on linen, 208.3 x 188 x 3.8 cm. © Charline von Heyl. Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Adam and LeeLee Kimmel, 2016

Charline von Heyl, P., 2008. Acrylic and crayons on linen, 208.3 x 188 x 3.8 cm. © Charline von Heyl. Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Adam and LeeLee Kimmel, 2016

Charline von Heyl

Snake Eyes

Hirshhorn Museum

Independence Ave SW &, 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20560

8 November - 27 January, 2018

The largest US museum survey of this pioneering artist to date, Charline von Heyl: Snake Eyes features more than thirty large-scale paintings that reveal the artist’s considerable influence in the field of contemporary art.

One of the most inventive artists working today, von Heyl has earned international acclaim for continually rethinking the possibilities of contemporary painting. Her cerebral yet deeply visceral artworks upend longstanding assumptions about composition, beauty, and narrative. Drawing inspiration from a vast and surprising array of sources—including literature, pop culture, metaphysics, and personal history—von Heyl creates paintings that are seemingly familiar yet impossible to classify, offering, in her words, “a new image that stands for itself as fact.”

In studios in New York and Marfa, Texas, von Heyl combines a rigorous, process-based practice that demands each painting develop through the act of painting, itself. The spellbinding results invite you to explore a unique visual language, exuberant and insistent.

Organized in collaboration with the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, this major multinational exhibition highlights the artist’s groundbreaking artistic output since 2005, including recent works that point to new developments in her constantly evolving practice. Together, Snake Eyes shines an international spotlight on one of today’s most dynamic painters and demonstrates the vitality and limitless possibilities of painting.

Curated by Hirshhorn Senior Curator Evelyn C. Hankins and Dr. Professor Dirk Luckow, general director at the Deichtorhallen, with curatorial assistance from Sandy Guttman.

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Forbes: Charline von Heyl, New Work At Petzel Gallery, New York

Charline von Heyl,  The Language of the Underworld , 2017. © 2018 CHARLINE VON HEYL. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND PETZEL, NEW YORK.

Charline von Heyl, The Language of the Underworld, 2017. © 2018 CHARLINE VON HEYL. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND PETZEL, NEW YORK.

Charline von Heyl

New Work

Petzel Gallery

456 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011

September 6 - October 20, 2018

2’10” (two minutes, ten seconds)

Before uttering a word of his introductory remarks for the June 2018 opening of Charline von Heyl’s Snake Eyes exhibition at the Deichtorhallen (Hamburg), John Corbett, the Chicago gallerist and music champion nonpareil, lifted his smartphone to the mic and played a 2’10” free jazz piece by the Norwegian trio Moskus (Musk Ox). The piece was Fjesing (Emoticon) from their album Mestertyven (Master Thief). Corbett’s intent was to get the audience’s attention and to just, simply, make them take the time to focus on what they were hearing, experiencing. It was a lesson in mindfulness, presentness. In his remarks, Corbett spoke about his relationship to poetry as well, saying, “I read poetry the way I listen to improvised music. It’s not so important to interpret an improvisation as it is to experience it. . . at full scale. No abstract; no précis.”

Linking the experience of engaging with von Heyl’s paintings to listening to this piece of music, Corbett added, “Charline’s paintings take time, too, but because they are paintings, people sometimes do walk past them, remark on their beauty, and move along.” But . . . and this is a huge caveat . . . von Heyl’s paintings defy conventional notions of beauty, the same way they flout traditional categorization. They are not, in her words, abstract paintings, nor are they figurative. Instead, they are “non-representational” paintings, which occupy an in-between space. To see von Heyl’s paintings always requires openness and total surrender. You have to look, move on, return and look again. This is a cycle of seeing the work on your own terms.

By Clayton Press

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