Wade Guyton gives painting a new edge in major Cologne museum survey
Renowned for his inkjet paintings, the American conceptual artist is the subject of a retrospective at Museum Ludwig charting two decades of his trailblazing practice
From posters and books to paintings, drawings and sculptures, conceptual artist Wade Guyton is fascinated by printed and digital imagery. He continuously explores both their limitations and possibilities, be it on linen or paper or through cast bronze or manipulated metal. This preoccupation is clearly seen in Guyton’s largest exhibition to date, currently on view at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. Titled ‘Wade Guyton: Zwei Dekaden MCMXCIX–MMXIX’, the show presents an overview of the artist’s work from the last two decades, created in close collaboration with Guyton himself.
The exhibition begins with a large-scale installation, providing the ground on which the rest of the show unfolds. Inkjet printers and black metal tables are covered by two draping blue carpets (Untitled, 2017), on top of which stand nine reflective chrome U-shaped sculptures (U Sculpture [v.1–9], 2004–2011). The depth of these three-dimensional letters summons memories of Microsoft Word Art, in turn connecting the singular ‘U’ to the shortening of ‘you’ when chatting online or by text. ‘U’ along with ‘X’, another letter that assumes symbolic associations in connection with the internet, recur throughout Guyton’s practice, most prominently in the works for which he is most well-known: images on raw or primed linen made with inkjet printers, like those covered by the carpet, that he calls ‘paintings’.
Many of these paintings are presented in the exhibition, which is arranged thematically rather than chronologically. For example, in the second room, each of five untitled paintings depict the letter ‘U’ against a black background with flames rising from the bottom. They appear to be a series made at once, yet they were made periodically between 2005 and 2014. In the centre of the room is Untitled Action Sculpture (Chair), a 2001 sculpture of a twisting steel rod, originally from in a Marcel Breuer chair. Similar sculptures appear later in the exhibition, albeit flattened to two dimensions, as they’re depicted in five untitled paintings from 2015-2018.
Other printed paintings are less abstract, such as those showing screenshots from the The New York Times’ website, iPhone advertisements, and the downtown Manhattan skyline. In vitrines created especially for the exhibition are a selection of Guyton’s ‘drawings’ – images printed atop pages of books, art and design catalogues, and other found material – as well as a selection of his artist books. No matter the form the work takes, however, Guyton continues to explore and appropriate digital media and tools, as well as re-appropriate his own work when it feels right or when circumstances present the opportunity. As he opined in the exhibition catalogue, ‘Sometimes the artwork decides when it wants to be an artwork.’ §