Ull HohnNovember 13, 2010 – January 8, 2011
The stylistic diversity of Ull Hohn’s nearly two decades of work belies an evolving unity of intent. Hohn made abstract paintings and reliefs, realist paintings in several styles, studio still lifes and landscapes painted in the manner of the Hudson River School and later following the Sunday-painter instructions of Bob Ross. When Hohn’s work was shown at American Fine Arts in 1993-two years before the artist’s death from AIDS at the age of 35-it was seen as part of what was then becoming known as institutional critique. Since his death, Hohn’s art has gained increasing attention in Europe. This is the first one-person exhibition of Ull Hohn’s work in New York since his 1993 show at American Fine Arts.
Ull Hohn began art school in Berlin as a student of Kuno Gonschior, a painter of impastoed, pointillist, color field paintings. In 1984 he transferred to the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf to study with Gerhard Richter. Moving to New York in 1985, the artist enrolled in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program. His experience in the Whitney program had a liberating impact. Hohn became an astute student of the theoretical concerns circulating at the time, particularly ideas about identity, sexuality, and the subjective will of the artist in determining meaning. Such subjectivity has a leveling effect on artistic production; in taking a backseat to authorship and intent, style becomes a political construct.
Hohn’s polymorphous output was of a piece with his experience as a student of Gerhard Richter and his early paintings evince the smeared figuration that characterizes Richter’s realist work. But Hohn put such stylistic promiscuity to personal purpose: Painting pictures of penises, exploring his own sexuality. Painting abstract paintings that were willfully beautiful nose thumbings aimed at formalist abstraction. Painting Hudson River landscapes collaged from luminist paintings, many made by 19th Century American artists who were students at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf where Hohn studied (Albert Bierstadt was rejected, but he became a student of Worthington Whittredge who was an academy graduate).
The current exhibition includes a series of abstract reliefs resembling excrement done while attending the Whitney program, several large monochrome paintings, a sampling of Hohn’s Bob Ross paintings, a series of abstract paintings to which labels articulating stereotypical gay character traits have been applied and several works called Revisions, done in the two years before the artist’s death, when Hohn precisely remade work done before his art school training, thereby contrasting work done as a precocious amateur with that of the professional artist he had become.