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Wulffen Thinks About The Shape Of Things

A three-sided enclosure of narrow, unpainted boards abuts the gallery wall, a DIY sketch in three dimensions. Still stapled to the end of one board, a black-and-white skew number and bar-code tag echoes the overall color scheme of Christian Wulffen's installation at MOCA Cleveland's Ginn Gallery. It's also provocatively informal. The fence itself is propped against slimly rectangular cement blocks, as if it just might fall down.

Elsewhere on the gallery wall, a narrow, four-foot long slat, painted black and looking at first glance like a painted stripe, on closer examination is seen to be nailed at each end with studied carelessness; the nails are hammered halfway into the wall, then bent and hammered flat. Similarly, a canvas is mounted with screws inserted in plain sight, painfully piercing the viewing surface of the work. In short, the devil is in the details at Christian Wulffen's exhibit It is, It is not, the latest in MOCA's ongoing Pulse series, highlighting the work of artists living in the region.

Or maybe, echoing that Hamlet-like title, the devil is not in the details. The question for Wulffen's art isn't whether or how to be, but how to interrupt the process of aesthetic projection that philosophers term "sensible cognition," separating mental and physical phenomena and sensations. His is a show of rectangles, for their own sake and at the same time as a theme in a life - his own, but also everyone's. It is, It is not refuses to fine-tune its presentation, calling to our attention the fact that pure forms like rectangles exist in the mind but not in Home Depot or in art galleries - not even in the paintings of late modernism's foundational artist and theorist Josef Albers, who Wulffen invokes in some of his work here. All human beings are surrounded by simple and complex constructions that use right angles, many of which are included either physically or pictorially in Wulffen's installation, as part of a 17-foot "billboard" color photograph, showing the contents of a hallway in the artist's apartment. Books, magazines, newspapers, paintings, buildings and most of the rooms in them are rectangular - though not, as it happens, the elusive shape of the gallery in which Wulffen's show is installed, with its gently curving long glass wall.

Wulffen, who received his MFA from the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, Germany, has been an associate professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art since 2003. He has long been inspired by Theo van Doesburg, the Dutch artist who was one of the founders of the influential de Stijl group and went on to initiate "L'art concret" movement in 1929-30. It is, It is not is an exercise in L'art concret's philosophical/visual project, suggesting the underlying identity of formal conception and worldly phenomena. Form is simply form, clipped plainly to transformation at every point, always identical to life and always peeling away toward eternity.Ê

Christian Wulffen: It is, It is not Through May 10 MOCA Cleveland 8501 Carnegie Avenue 216.421.8671 MOCAcleveland.org

More by Douglas Max Utter

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