It was by good fortune that I made a pilgrimage to the Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe’s disciplined and graceful glass and steel dwelling on the Fox River, the day before I saw Renate Wolff’s new wall painting, “Skies in Between,” at Devening Projects and Editions. Wolff has produced a cool and stunning non-objective composition in a long narrow room. Asymmetrical balance, preternatural attention to detail, preoccupation with the problems of space and an extremely limited palate echo the restraint of the international school associated with Mies and his Bauhaus colleagues. Mondrian, Itten (interaction of color is key in Wolff’s painting) and El Lissitzky (although there are no diagonals anywhere) might be Wolff’s other godfathers. She is likewise in conversation with colleagues working on a contemporary reopening of the investigations of early and mid-twentieth century Modernist abstraction and reappraisals of the dictums of its cadre of famous interpreters.
“Skies in Between” works simultaneously as a painting and an installation. The perfect flatness of Wolff’s painting and her restricted palate—a deep mahogany, light blue and a citrus yellow horizontal line against the white walls—set up a tension between the austere painting and its scrappy site. A raw and stained structural post of the warehouse building, which would ordinarily be overlooked, commands attention and the decisions the painter would make to negotiate the problems presented by the light switch box and the pipes holding the wires, not to mention ceiling and doors, become part of the subject of the work. The internal communications and power relations among formal elements of the painting: line, rectangle, verticals, horizontals, positive and negative space and color, or in the terms Mies used to refer to three-dimensional space terms, “volume and mass,” is riveting.
The installation is accompanied by an exhibit of small-scale works on paper titled “Berlin Drawings,” consisting of several sets of work by eight artists, each neatly presenting and solving a formal problem. (Janina Ciezadlo)
Through July 2 at Devening Projects and Editions, 3039 West Carroll.