The work of Norwegian-German artist Yngve Holen often insists on mobility. The objects he appropriates are intended to be perceived in motion, yet by depriving them of their original function and transferring them into the context of art, the artist reveals tension in their design. Holen first engaged car wheels in his 2016 series Leichtmetallräder, light-alloy rims gutted from wheels and cut using a 5-axis water jet: isolated and altered, the rims pose questions about the distribution of wealth, fetishization of objects, and the role of ornament today. At least since the publication of Adolf Loos’s Ornament and Crime, in 1908, the ornate has been seen as political, but this reduction by alleged modernism can at the same time be considered a well-concealed, conservative, and reactionary mentality.
For his latest body of work, titled Rose Painting, Holen has turned again to car wheels, further abstracting their forms: first, he 3D-scanned the cut out rims from SUVs and scaled the digital meshes to four times the objects’ original size; then, he optimized the scans and had them milled in cross-laminated timber (CLT), in so transposing the rims from alloy to wood. In Rose Painting, by achieving a sculptural quality through an industrial process and a material that—at least in art—is usually confined to craftsmanship, Holen re-imagines canonical languages of sculpture while at the same time acknowledging the mimetic character of consumer objects. Indeed, in the car industry, rims––or custom wheels—pertain to the realm of extras: they are pure luxury items, the ultimate ornaments, and thus can also be understood as a symptom of contemporary taste torn between a longing for tradition and an ever-increasing dependence on technological innovation.
Shown within the context of the baroque church of San Paolo Converso, Holen’s sculptures fully engage the architecture: while their title homages the Norwegian tradition of rosemaling, a technique of painting on wood which employs floral motifs, their material—timber—echoes the practice of artistic woodcarving and, with it, the vernacular imagery of idyllic landscapes (the snowflakes, the edelweisses); ultimately, their circular shape and symmetrical geometry recall the rose windows so characteristic of many pre-Baroque churches.
While they could seem to belong to this place, Holen’s sculptures—their anti-smoothness, or better, their chunkiness—estrange themselves by touching on economy: the economy of one’s visual landscape as well as of one’s system of values. Clutched to the steel truss that holds them up, they evoke the solitude of gargoyles, or those grotesque shapes that in church architecture summon the dark side of opulence.
Photos by Stefan Korte
Courtesy of the artist, Galerie Neu, Berlin, Modern Art, London and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt