Taking pride of place in the heart of the Hauser & Wirth Saville Rowe and Piccadilly galleries was the Onnassch collection of post-war American and European artists who shaped and reworked the history of art at that point in time. Famed gallerist Reinhard Onnasch’s collection offered a glimpse into the physicality of the jet set collectors that will often have their prized collections, emblems of refinery taste and exclusivity, hidden from public consumption.
Claes Oldenburg’s large scale sculptures drew a fine line between domesticity, form and materiality, and loom with a sense of surreal fragility. A brown adapter, Model for a Mahogany Plug, Scale B (1969), hung from the ceiling. When one looks up at it, gridded sheets of intensely white light flood down as if all the world’s electrical energy is being diverted through the adapter. To its left a reflective black sculpture, introverted in its feminine form, radiated an air of seductiveness; a white square plinth elevated it ever so slightly off the polished wooden floors. The combination of these strange items and there varying scale set the scene for a strange tableaux.
This fascinating narrative explodes as the exhibition progresses. Rauchenberg’s Pilgrim (1960) consists of a square canvas painted with vigour and calculation in neutral pastel tones, upstaged by the periodic scrapes of blood red and sickly blackened browns. Covering the bottom right corner was a wooden chair, echoing the domesticity of Oldenburg. The chair was sectioned off into three vertical stripes of which each is painted a different colour, white, brown and yellow. This harnesses the application of paint, which is unrestrained and pure in act and intention on the canvas, and reconstitutes its purpose through decoration and function – the task of a chair in one’s home being to work as a chair well, but to be unique and pleasing to the owner’s taste. George Segal’s The Farm Worker (1963) was perpendicular to this Rauschenberg’s piece, and elaborated on the narrative. A brick wall with a light blue window frame stood unobtrusively in front of it sat the white cast of a man on a chair in a contemplative state. The inclusion of the ominous white figure operates as a framework in which one juxtaposes themselves – examining their domestic aesthetic taste as well as enveloping the boundaries on what can be considered art.
The narrative comes to an abrupt end as a serene solitude seeped through the remainder of the gallery. Richard Serra’s Do It (1983) is formed of two iron sheets in the corner of one room. The bottom sheet shoots out of the corner at 45 degree angle as the second sheet stands on top slanting back appearing to join the two walls. The sheets are rustic and raw in their aesthetic, unnervingly contradicting the soft lights and polished wooden floors. However the most intriguing contradiction to architecture of the space was at the first of the Saville Row galleries. Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting (1956) perpetually stared across the concrete sea that is the floor. Opposite Franz Kline’s large scale calligraphy-esq works tantalizingly dance. Reinhardt’s work is much smaller and sombre in its distinct black frame perpetually locked in combat with the virgin purity of the white walls that surround the gallery and which it subsequently resided on. The canvas is dissected into a pattern of 3 x 3 squares all of equal length and height. Each one was painted black with the whispered undertones of varying blues and whites. One’s eyes must adjust to it over time, like when seeing in the dark, and it is this slow revealing process that makes this piece so prolific in this particular environment echoing an essence of vertigo when looking away at the the space. But its enigmatic darkness encompasses the viewer and strikes them as if they were on a cliff edge about to fall for eternity into nothingness making it impossible to resist looking at.
Re-view: Onnasch Collection, 20 September until 14 December, Hauser & Wirth London, 196A Piccadilly, London, W1J 9DY | 23 Savile Row, London, W1S 2ET. www.hauserwirth.com
Image: Larry Bell, Untitled, 1967. © Larry Bell Courtesy Onnasch Collection