Appropriated texts and portraits of scientists, occultists, and historians are the starting points for many of Philip von Zweck’s challenging new paintings on view at Invisible Exports. Based in Chicago, von Zweck is known for a diverse art practice which, besides painting, includes performance, sound, participatory social projects, and Something Else, a radio show that ran for ten years. Though ostensibly and I think genuinely playful, von Zweck incorporates a serious, searching, and quite intellectual approach that teases out ideas about faith, futility, and the problem of unexplainable phenomena.
Beginning with a portrait or a bit of text, von Zweck works and reworks his small-scale paintings, sometimes for years. As he progresses, the portraits become less prominent, sinking into the painted field like a pebble in a pond. Through a series of what he calls “technical missteps,” many become brushy monochromes, suffused with his anxious but ultimately unknowable process. As von Zweck would be the first to admit, his doubt and agitation–what he sees as his inability to get the image right–end up entombed in a handsome field of near-muddy color. In these curious paintings, von Zweck manages to cover his mistakes and memorialize them at the same time.
One of the few portraits in the show that didn’t disappear in a slough of paint is that of Charles Fort, an American researcher and writer born in 1874 who compiled data and wrote books on anomalous phenomena that seemed occult, supernatural, or paranormal. Like Fort, von Zweck is interested in matters that are not fully explainable or definable, and in his work he has developed a metaphorical language for conveying and exploring the unknown. What makes good art? When is a painting finished? Is there such a thing as “resolution”? Definitive answers are elusive, but, like Fort’s studies of the paranormal, the questions are well worth asking.
Also on view are several of von Zweck’s defiantly real Thornberry doorstops. Or are they?
“Philip von Zweck: the burning deck or the freezing sea,” Invisible Exports, Lower East Side, New York, NY. Through July 26, 2014.
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