24 May – 9 July 2016
White Cube presented an exhibition by Hungarian artist Dóra Maurer at Mason’s Yard. Maurer’s rigorous, conceptual work spans 50 years and incorporates painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and filmmaking. Also active as a curator and teacher, she is one of the most experimental artists to emerge from Eastern Europe during the past half a century. This exhibition encompassed the breadth of her prolific career to date and included several signature black and white photographic series from the 1970s, frottage drawings from the 1980s and a selection of paintings dating from the late 1990s to the present. Also on show were two major wall installations made especially for the exhibition.
Maurer’s radical work embraces indeterminacy, allowing multiple possibilities and interpretations, but it also focuses on the grammar of geometry and mathematical systems and methodologies. Her approach can alternate between process-based experiments and formal investigations of rule-based compositional logic, but is always characterised by a sense of movement and change. Although Maurer was affected by the political and social situation of communist Hungary, she was able to move with relative ease between Budapest and Vienna, straddling both the east and west. This was because in 1967 she had gained a scholarship to study in Vienna, and there she had met her husband, Tibor Gáyor, a Hungarian artist with Austrian citizenship.
The 1970s were a key period in her development as an artist, when, after initially concentrating on printmaking, she started to produce conceptual photography, structural films and process-based drawing. Occasionally her works incorporated found or natural forms, as in Schautafel 3 (1972), which is made from an organic mass of delicate twigs and dripped brown paint set against a simple geometric grid.
The result of playful investigation, chance and freedom, her visually arresting and resolved work allows process to become visible, harnessing its experimental energy and force and the natural change of materials. The photographic series ‘Reversible and Changeable Phases of Movements’ (1972), is described by Maurer as being ‘minimal sequences of movement which I analysed and captured photographically’. Arranged in a grid formation, they record simple, repetitive actions such as throwing a ball or clenching and unclenching a fist, creating a story line of images that can be read both left to right and right to left. This emphasises the importance of photography and film as a mechanical means of recording human experience in a straightforward way, while also suggesting the possibility for continual renewal and a ‘self-made system’. For Maurer, these works are not concerned with visual effect but create, instead, what she has described as ‘easily comprehensible signs’. (‘I Will Take a Stone Away – Reversible and Interchangeable Phases of Movement’, Etudes for a Change in Meaning 1-7, 1972−73. p.35)
Towards the end of the 1970s Maurer focused on ‘hidden structures’, making minimal pencil frottage drawings with geometrical shapes, where further traces or impressions were created by folding the paper in various different ways. Hidden Structures 1-6, (1977-80), is made in this manner: a delicate, 6-part work on paper that uses both horizontal and diagonal folds as well as pencil rubbings to create its monochromatic, intricate, geometric composition.
During the 1980s Maurer continued to explore geometric forms, looking at how they are affected by colour and colour perception. In these dynamic acrylic paintings on canvas laid on wood, she painted what appear to be overlaid or intersecting shapes in strong hues, creating a three-dimensional presence and sense of mobility. Elegant and seemingly lightweight, the paintings in fact exist on a single plane. They are not formed by any sculptural manipulation but by using colour to create the illusion of layering or the semblance of transparency, as if we were seeing one area of colour through another. These paintings are made from combinations ranging from two intersecting planes of colour, such as Overlappings I (1999), to complex compositions of three or more, as in the recent ‘IXEK’ series made in 2015.
Influenced by the colour theory of Josef Albers, Maurer has said that ‘the IXEK pictures are concerned with the reciprocity of colour and form, with the way the two penetrate one another. The individual elements of an IXEK painting have not only a formal influence on each other but also a chromatic one. Since I apply the colours in transparent layers, they merge at the points where the shapes overlap and intersect.’ (Dóra Maurer, Snapshots, ex.cat. Museum Ritter, 2014, p.59).
Dóra Maurer studied at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts from 1955-61. Widely acknowledged as one of the most important members of the Hungarian avant-garde, and has been a keen promoter of young artists throughout her career. Maurer has exhibited widely, most recently at Tate Modern, London (2016); Museum of Modern Art, New York (1985, 2015); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2015); Museum Ritter, Germany (2014); The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2014); the 12th International Biennial, Istanbul (2012), Ludwig Museum, Budapest (1997, 2008, 2012); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010). Her work is held in collections across the world, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.