‘The Fold paintings are my effort to construct a portal through which to summon – or at least imagine – this inaccessible hyper-spatial reality’
‘The Folds invoke painting as a technology, exploiting the mechanical properties specific to the medium, while also compelling it to act somewhat like the photographic process. The paintings “develop” over the duration of the spray; contrast builds with prolonged exposure to paint coming from a particular direction’
A masterful contemporary trompe-l’oeil, Tauba Auerbach’s Untitled (Fold) presents a shimmering illusion of three-dimensional reality. From a distance, it appears to chart the ineffable play of light and shadow across a hallucinogenic expanse of folded cloth, tinted with subtle iridescent highlights that oscillate between yellow, green and pink. As we approach the work, however, we realise that the surface is in fact perfectly flat. The undulating creases and seemingly voluminous textures dissolve before our eyes, revealing a flawlessly smooth canvas. Painted in 2010, the work dates from an important year in Auerbach’s practice, during which she exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art PS1, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, the New Museum, New York, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, and the Whitney Biennial, New York. Her Fold paintings, begun the previous year, represent the most celebrated body of work within her oeuvre: an elegant, enigmatic and technically rigorous response to the artist’s ongoing fascination with ‘collapsing order and chaos into a unified state’ (T. Auerbach, quoted in D. Kazanjian. ‘Optic Nerve’, American Vogue, January 2009, p. 141). Existing on the knife-edge between the second and third dimension, these works continually thwart, challenge and undermine our perceptual capacity, probing the limits of our visual consciousness.
Auerbach’s carefully-crafted illusions are the products of a finely-calibrated working method. As the artist explains, ‘I contort and fold the canvas, ironing it or letting it sit under weights to set the creases. After a few days I loosely spread the creased fabric on the floor and spray it directionally with acrylic paint put through an industrial house paint sprayer-a process in which pigment acts like raking light. When the paint is dry I stretch the canvas taut. The resulting flat surface carries a near-perfect imprint of the canvas’ previous three-dimensional self; the surface still appears wrinkled or folded. This is my take on trompe-l’oeil or traditional realist painting, one that relies on strategy rather than virtuosity’ (T. Auerbach, quoted in Folds, exh. cat., Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, 2012, p. 105). Operating between the realms of conceptual, graphic and abstract art, the Folds transform painting into a kind of technology, comparable to mechanical methods of image production. Auerbach has spoken of the parallels between her method and the process of photographic development, emphasising the emergent properties of her works. ‘[The work] develops like a photo as I paint’, she elaborates. ‘The record of that topological moment is carried forward after the material is stretched. Each point on the surface contains a record of itself in that previous state’ (T. Auerbach in C. Bedford, ‘Dear Painter...’, Frieze, March 2012).
Depicting a haptic sensibility through an optic medium, Untitled (Fold) can be seen to extend the time-honoured pictorial tradition of representing drapery and folded cloth. By making the surface the subject of the work, however, Auerbach draws attention to the artifice of painting itself. Inherently unstable and volatile, the Folds unite apparently irreconcilable phenomena – flatness and depth, illusion and reality – within the confines of a single canvas. In this way, as Jeffrey Deitch has commented, Auerbach ‘has been able to update the type of conceptual structures in the work of an earlier generation of artists like Sol LeWitt to the digital age ... extend[ing] the tradition of modern abstraction painting into a contemporary context, both conceptually and formally’ (J. Deitch, The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 7). As Auerbach herself explains, ‘I guess one of the biggest shifts I had in my thinking, in my work process, was that I stopped conceiving of higher spatial dimensions as “beyond” and started thinking that these higher dimensions might in fact be sort of coiled up within our space’ (T. Auerbach, quoted in Tauba Auerbach - Float, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2012). In Untitled (Fold), Auerbach asks whether fact and fiction can co-exist upon the same plane and – if so – whether there is any useful distinction between the two.