Dr. Ingrid Pfeiffer
Catalogue for the exhibition “Bivalences”, Landesmuseum Wiesbaden, 2000
Clearly configured constructions in painted wood, primarily as reliefs or wall objects, define the spectrum of Michael Post’s art over the past ten years. During this period the artist has created a diverse range of objects, all of which, despite their different outward appearances, consist of the same basic “module”: two wedge-shaped wooden elements formed and painted in perfect conformity with the artist’s design – Michael Post describes them as “elongated tetrahedrons”. These move toward one another in an offset pattern, thickening and narrowing as they develop in space, so that their two-dimensional thickness and width match the corresponding three-dimensional values at the other end exactly – an intricately designed three-dimensional system in which every line and planar surface is fully dependent upon its counterpart, each growing longer or broader to precisely the same extent that its counterpart becomes shorter or narrower. The underlying principle does not become evident until the viewer shifts from a frontal to a lateral point of view. Only then do the works seem whole, when the element of motion – in this case that of the viewer – becomes part of the reception process.
Motion, power, dynamics and energy – these themes also appear in Michael Post’s early works, where one finds a scythe or a plumbline with bob and curves in frozen motion. A grand, expansive gesture materialises in his Großer Bogen (Large Curve, 1993 ), a last reminiscence on these earlier pieces. This inherent mobile energy is present only as an undertone in most of his works of the 1990s.
The viewer moves in a temporal dimension past the objects, which are still joined to the wall. His gaze follows the lines and edges, retracing the constructive principle as recognition turns to comprehension. Active viewer involvement is crucial to the artist, for “if you don’t move, you experience the world from only one point of view”, as Michael Post says. Thus location or setting – in both a spatial and an intellectual or theoretical sense – plays an important role, since the artist Michael Post who reflects upon his work at a number of different levels and in great detail, seeking productive interaction not only with the eye but with the intellect of the viewer as well. Are his works thus an expression of “pure, harmonious measure and weight”, to cite Max Bill, “for the use of the human mind”?
Michael Post’s art has often been placed in the tradition of geometric-constructive or concrete art. Since the conditions under which artists work today differ considerably from those of the “basic researchers” of the early years of the 20th century, however, such attributions, though understandable, now appear increasingly unsatisfactory.
Michael Post belongs to a generation of artists who studied art during the early 1970ies and were initially influenced by Arte Povera, Minimal and Concept Art – he cites Walter de Maria, in particular – and the 1972 documenta V exhibition. Given the consistently geometric, non-representational formal language he employs today and the obvious formative influence of Constructivist theories of modern art it makes apparent, one is prompted to ask about the specific determining characteristics of his working method. By identifying and describing these unique aspects as fittingly as possible, we may find the key to a definition of the individual artistic oeuvre, and therein lies the only satisfactory answer to questions about of the future of this kind of art.
In view of the “potential simultaneity” of styles and stylistic forms available … as raw material”, every contemporary artist’s position must prove its viability in the autonomous attempt to come to grips with the premises, their interpretation and the values the represent and its own transformation in the present. The following discussion of the development of Michael Post’s works over the course of recent years, with a particular focus on his current site-related installations, will show that the artist has succeeded in meeting this challenge and finding a valid, contemporary solution within his own chosen theoretical and formal context.
Among the countless definitions of concrete art, there is one that calls Michael Post to mind immediately. Writing as early as 1944, Camille Graeser, a concrete artist from Zurich, stated that “Concrete is the total elimination the subconscious. Concrete is the visibly shaped painterly sound, like that of music. Concrete signifies purity, law and order.”
Michael Post’s statement that he needs “order and selfimposed control”, is a clear indication of his own voluntary decision discipline his own working approach and, as is evident in his works, to pursue it to the limits of precision and painterly exactitude. The point at which a work is “perfect” and “pure” enough to be regarded as finished and presented to the outside world is redefined in each work, the artist says, and is based upon his own personal feeling about the work in question. “Aesthetics represent order”, the painter and graphic artist Anton Stankowski tells us, yet “when the order becomes perfect, the work is destroyed”.
The works of Michael Post are entirely immune to this danger, for he deliberately and repeatedly breaks away from the laws of mathematics and escapes the confines of a geometry derived from pure calculation. Thus, for example, several works appear square, although they are not, because the artist’s eye ultimately takes precedence over measured accuracy. While calculation and planning are indispensable tools in the creation of works whose appeal is often the product of their conceptual and handcrafting precision, what counts when all is said and done is the measure of an intuition that is capable of speaking to the viewers emotions as well.
Every one of these works, which differ in terms of format, coloration and proportions, comprises the “modules” described above: lengths of wood cut to precise specifications in the workshop, glued and subsequently painted by the artist in different colours. A barely visible suggestion of their material quality remains beneath the thick acrylic paint, and their sharp, pointed edges often look quite fragile and vulnerable. Although significantly thinner edges could be fashioned in metal, the choice of wood imposes – voluntary – limits on the artist, which he takes into account in his designs. The artist’s conceptual plan and the qualities and limitations of the material interact in a relationship of reciprocal influence, joining in what makes up the specific quality of each individual work.
The origin and development of the bipolar works of the 1990ies
With the invention of his “modules” some ten years ago, the artist succeeded in creating a highly unique, astoundingly simple yet at the same time complex and adaptable system which allowed him to combine extremely diverse, variable objects. One of the earliest works featuring this basic form is Schwarze Doppel-Senkrechte (Black Double Vertical, 1993), which may be regarded as a monochrome and more highly energised variation on Senkrechte V (Vertical V 1992)
Both objects are still essentially monolithic, although the black piece divides into two elements and thus anticipates the parallel structure of the later wall objects. Post’s Doppelkeil (Double Wedge) is surely the most pronounced embodiment of his basic bipolar principle. Measuring about 150 centimetres in length, the long, plain length of wood, painted red and black, comprises a basic rectangular form of the module. It’s striking presence give this work the look of a clear statement of position on the part of the artist, although it barely protrudes into the surrounding space. Nothing distracts the viewer’s gaze from the presentation and revelation of the principle and its inner “motion”. Although forward and lateral extension of the object in space amounts to only six centimetres, the viewer experiences constantly changing perspectives as he walks along it. The interplay of colour and form evokes an impression of internal consistency.
Michael Post’s colour spectrum calls to mind both the almost mythical triad of red, black and white in Malevich’s icon-style paintings the clear objectivity of the highly contrastive primary and non-colours in El Lissitzky’s Russian revolutionary art. The artist’s unmistakable interest in the dynamic energy of reds and blues and in clear contrasts also assumes a conceptual dimension. lt describes his fundamental response to a kind of art that is defined by a dialectical relationship involving various different “energies” within a work of art. The geometric “system” developed by the artist Michael Post through his modules is particularly effective, thanks to the combination of such “bipolar” and at the same time mutually contrasting form and colour systems.
While the three-colour works draw their strength from the visual effects of the changing colours, which are more eye-catching than the formal relationships, the two-colour works appear calmer and more concentrated. The form of the individual modules is more readily evident, and the two-colour, dark-and-light contrast echoes the fundamental principle of bipolar form, as is evident in the appearance of such basic geometric forms as the triangle and the square. In this case, the shift of perspective produces an optical distortion, a “disturbance” of the perfect basic form. Consequently, the latter work almost appears as an ironic commentary on the extensive history of the square in 20th century art. Yet what appears to “fall out of line” here is ultimately returned to its rightful place. The artist remains true to his system of rules and does not assume the role of an iconoclast. The root of the distortion lies in the mathematical laws of the module itself, which, though they periodically generate forms which look “out of place”, they ultimately – as in the case of Max Bill’s Endless Loop – return in harmony to their point of departure and complete the contextual frame again.
Through this paradoxical system (some of Michael Post’s earlier works bear the title Paradoxon), the artist presents his concept of opposition and counteraction, allowing the viewer to perceive visually what the artist refers to as “dialectics”. Despite the clarity, order and precision of execution, there is an element of defraction, of deviation, of questioning that identifies Michael Post’s attitude as totally contemporary and clearly distinguishable in many essential ways from that of the pioneers of geometric, non-representational or concrete art.
Thus the artist’s abandonment of the self-enclosed outline in the series completed during the past two years is only logical. Brief rhythms consisting of parallel elements arranged in horizontal and vertical series are the most striking features of these more recent works. The viewer’s attention is directed in equal measure to form, colour, line and flat surface, and the eye wanders from one perceptual level to the next as it grapples with the underlying principle. Variable combinations of structures that appear to be expandable, as in the black, white and blue relief invade the surrounding space and interact more closely with the wall. The theme of the site-related installation in the Steinsaal of the Museum Wiesbaden, the culmination of this development in the year 2000, is already apparent in this work.
The installation in the Steinsaal
Michael Post has created an installation composed of “bivalences” for the Steinsaal at the Museum Wiesbaden: nine multipart reliefs combined in horizontal and vertical series. Here, the artist pursues his earlier theme in a work which, for the first time, incorporates the principle of site-orientation, creating relationships of colour, length and proportion between his bivalent or bipolar modules and the architectural setting and unique atmosphere of the Steinsaal.
Although the artist has previously favored strong primary colours, the almost sacral atmosphere of the Steinsaal, with its arches and columns and the strong material quality of the red sandstone floor, demands a “colourless” solution, the particular appeal of which derives from its optical clarity and spatial structure. In terms of length, arrangement and number, the series of painted elements or modules, all of which are five centimetres wide and deep, are designed to related to their specific location. In the arched niches, for example, the artist has placed vertical reliefs which evoke – admittedly distant – associations with the beams of a cross. The artist based the proportions of these series, the intervals separating them, their number and their arrangement on his perception of the spatial situation in the Steinsaal.
Every work of geometric art involves a spatial relationship. After all, measure and number are fundamental prerequisites for architecture, and this is particularly true of the Steinsäle (stone halls) designed by the architect Theodor Fischer. The “squares” in Michael Post’s installation (some of which are vertically elongated) – four forming a compact group on the front wall, three in the vertical wall object to the left of the entrance and three separate, large elements in the wall niches – correspond to square volumes and areas in the room. Not only do the columns stand on a square base, the square stone sections of the floor also correspond precisely to the lengths of their sides. Reflecting the seven spatial axes in the Steinsaal, the artist has selected uneven numbers for his serial arrangements in the installation, as they embody a dynamic element and because the eye spontaneously perceives uneven numbers as a “multiplicity” of forms.
Yet every room has not only stereometric qualities but emotional ones as well. Although the artist measured the room and calculated its proportions, the final outcome was determined only in part on the basis of his calculations. The black-and-white painted elements, which combine to form serial wall reliefs, relate to the architecture, emphasizing it, intensifying it yet refusing to be swallowed up by it. Although the wooden elements look black and white at first glance, the artist has chosen a subdued white and an oscillating blue-black tone, thus capturing the atmosphere of the historical Steinsaal and softening the contrasting effect of his geometric objects.
American artists of the 1 960ies ref erred to their reliefs as “wall pieces” – an indication of the importance walls bad assumed in their art. In the Steinsaal installation, the inbetween spaces are as important as the wall objects themselves. The white surface elements extend onto the walls and expand optically, an effect that appears almost to dissolve and “dematerialize” these surface areas. The interplay of these elements with the colour black – the one can never be without the other in the bipolar modules – prevents the black forms from taking over completely. “The most important thing is the wall”, says Michael Post. “The form comes from the wall and flows back into the wall.”
The regular pattern of expansion and contraction in form and colour and the parallel structure of the elements combine to build the consistent rhythm, the musical staccatos of the wall objects which end abruptly at specified lengths. The music of which Camille Graeser spoke plays a role in Michael Post’s works as well, particularly in the serial structures in the Steinsaal, in which short and long rhythms predominate. Concepts such as simultaneity and repetition and the “aspect of emptiness” are as present in art as they are in music, be it Bach or more modern music. “I hear music with a totally different ear since I began doing these serial works”, comments Michael Post.
Works like these school the viewer’s perception, increasing his or her ability to take in details and distinctions. A small change in the width of a length of wood – from three to five centimetres – alters the character of the work, its proportions and thus also the overall impression evoked by the room as a whole. A noteworthy aspect of Michael Post’s installation in the Steinsaal is the fact that each work can be read in its own right yet still functions within the context of the whole.
“Thus art is not object but experience”, wrote Josef Albers. The practice of intruding, installing and intervening extensively in existing spatial situations can be described as a current tendency among contemporary non-representational, geometric artists. In taking such a step, this generation of artists, to which Michael Post belongs, sets itself apart from the “forefathers” of the various Constructivist currents of the 20th century, who focused largely on the isolated work of art. An exception to this rule is El Lissitzky, whose Demonstration Rooms made the spatial setting a theme in its own right even as early as the 1920s, with wall-systems designed to be viewed while walking along them, thus involving viewers actively.
Spatial installations and interventions work only when two elements interact. The one is the complex system developed by the artist, his arrangement of modules, their proportions and the installation’s allusions to the spatial setting. The other indispensable component is the viewer’s interactive involvement: his or her movements and perceptions, the conscious, intellectual as well as the subconscious, emotional experience of the structures, their spatial effects, the transformations they undergo as one passes along them, the changing perspectives and an increasing awareness of the architecture (and the change in architecture that results) prompted by the accents placed by the art.
The artists seeks to achieve no more and no less than an alteration of consciousness by providing us an opportunity to look at works and reflect upon the “laws” that govern them and by addressing – and perhaps changing – our sense of rhythm and proportion. To school our eyes, to enhance our sensibilities and to improve our ability to respond and appreciate art – these educational objectives are by no means alien to Michael Post. He defends this approach, which, in view of the overabundance produced by artists today, demands an even more painstaking selection than ever before.
In his most recent work, 35+5, completed shortly before the Steinsaal installation, the artist used a new colour combination that radically changed the character of his wall objects. Since the relief, whose title derives from the number of horizontal and vertical elements, points in a number of ways in a totally new direction, it could indeed be the point of departure for a future series.
Although its form and structure correspond to those of his previous serial wall objects, this work evokes a completely different effect that appears as a revolutionary change in the artist’s approach as well. In lieu of the clear, hard contrasts between the primary colours of red and blue, tones long Michael Post has long favored, this work features a combination of white, light blue and pink – pale pastel tones derived from primary colours mixed with white. For the first time we perceive a sense of diffusion and floating lightness – unusual aspects in an oeuvre characterised by such clarity and drama. The new light blue calls to mind the sky and atmospheric moods, while the subdued red hue awakens associations with springtime. Is the artist now incorporating nature into his art, not through imagery but in a roundabout way through the medium of colour?
White alone is responsible for this fundamental change in the total effect. Post uses white in both pure and mixed form in the symmetrical structures of this new work. lt is responsible for the increasing optical dissolution of the surfaces that touch the walls, and it heightens the overall presence of light in the structures, almost to the point of rendering them immaterial.
In a development that nearly parallels the intense drama of the iarge, prominent, expansive Steinsaal installation, which represents a point of culmination in the development of Post’s dramatised, highly contrastive wall objects, the artist confronts us with an unexpected lightness and emotional emphasis in these pastel variations – aspects he can now accept, according to his own admission. lt is in this direction, the artist says, that he wishes to experiment in the future in an effort to discover where the frontiers of bis
“artistic field” of object and wall, colour and contrast, motion and space will be drawn.