Exhibition text by Stian Gabrielsen, written for the solo exhibition Parking & Transportation at Galleri LNM, Oslo (2019)
A lot of time has undoubtedly been invested in André Tehrani’s canvases. Day in and day out is spent mixing colours and applying them to the support, precisely and according to preconcieved schemes. The artist’s creative involvement is limited to transporting information from screen to canvas, and to plan out the rules for this procedure. In his current exhibition at Galleri LNM, Tehrani presents a series of colour-field paintings based on Persian tilework patterns, as well as a selection of lacquer paintings of stripe renderings that have been printed, crumpled and then scanned. Moreover, the exhibition consists of two older works on canvas encased in wooden boxes, so that only the painted edges of the supports are visible.
Tehrani’s images usually don unpoetic titles referencing colour codes, and the flat segments of meticulously mixed acrylics constitute attempts to recreate the on-screen appearance of digital colour swatches. The artistic treatment of the design programme’s palette of default tints and shades puts Tehrani’s work in close contact with the multiple meanings of colour value. Colour has value inasmuch as it affects us and is subject to our projections of meaning and emotion. Wherever it appears as a material surface – as in painting – such symbolic or affective qualities are typically ascribed to it. Simultaneously, the value of a colour could also signify the coordinates that help to differentiate a particular hue from the contiguous colours on a chart or in a system. The transcribing of the natural spectrum to a notation of zeroes and ones is a prerequisite for the digital reproduction of colour values, much like how the code from the can’s label must be passed on to the hardware store clerk to get the balance of prime pigments right.
It seems obvious that the accumulation of pigment, binder, wood, canvas and labour time that make up a painting is destined for the gallery wall. To hang on the wall in front of us is every painting’s indisputable purpose. An unseen painting is lacking in something that can only be afforded to it by an encounter with the spectating public. The notion of the spectator’s supplementary function is cut from the same cloth as the presumption that the picture belongs on the wall. In actuality, however, most art works spend surprisingly little time hanging on walls. If a painting could write its autobiography, it would likely deal more with the insides of padded shipping crates than being laid bare to the scrutiny of chin-rubbing spectators. As a perverse caricature of the disparity between what could be termed painting’s social exposure time and the time it is relegated to storage or transit, the financialization of the art market has spawned a peculiar cycle of highly priced pieces that circulate without ever being de-boxed, and hence exist in a fixed state of negation of the aesthetic address they strictly speaking still embody. The consequence of this is that there is no necessary correlation between the market’s demand for an art work and the time it is alloted to take up wall space in a gallery or a museum. This shift in the collector’s relation to the art object has coincided with a general change in pace in the cycles of the art world, as well as an eventification of institutional programming strategies. Time is a valuable resource in the experience economy, and the experience of looking at art is no longer distinct from processing the massive amounts of sensory information one has to assimilate every day.
The decreased significance of the art object’s material specificity for those who invest time or money in it resembles a state of crisis for the studio artist. When art’s value is determined by everything other than what goes on between the canvas and its viewer, it is (financially) prudent of the artist to spend his time on other activities than manipulating the surfaces of paintings. The overly deadpan and uninspired exhibition title Parking & Transportation indicates that Tehrani acknowledges the relative redundancy of painterly investment. It is as if these images can barely endure the bother of presentation, if they even notice that they are on view (for painting, the shipping crate is comparable to a robe or a pair of dungarees). With this resigned manner in mind, one could reasonably ask why Tehrani spends so much time covering the canvas with paint. It would be misconstrued to percieve of his anal-retentive methods as driven by fears of failing to convince either audience or market. Rather than performing an investment in painting’s social or economic fitness, Tehranis work-intensive procedures divert attention from the special occasion in the painting’s life – as constituted by its exhibition and ensuing dissemination – towards the sequence of fairly inconsequential actions and events that together add up to a recognizable, finished piece. Tehrani’s painting is first and foremost a bad habit, a detour, a dead end, waste of time, dithering, futile, invaluable, but nevertheless on show and for sale.
Stian Gabrielsen (b. 1982) is a writer and critic based in Oslo. He was previously editor for the Norwegian edition of Kunstkritikk and is now a regular contributor.