Germans at Sweetow


Saturday, October 26, 2002; page E-10

The Patricia Sweetow Gallery has been a pipeline to contemporary German art that might otherwise never be seen in the Bay Area.

Sweetow’s current show introduces Joachim Bandau and Kuno Gonschior, two near contemporaries of Gerhard Richter, well known in Europe but new to the West Coast art public.

Bandau’s abstractions on paper will stun anyone familiar with the difficulty of laying down an even wash of watercolor.

His procedure sounds simple. On large sheets of cold-pressed paper, he has drawn roughly concentric freehand rectangles, each smaller than the last, and filled each one in succession with a layer of tinted gray. As the layers of wash build up, their areas of overlap darken stepwise all the way to black.

Maintaining the watercolor’s transparency as layers accumulate takes extraordinary relaxation and control. The even, velvety blacks that cap Bandau’s sheets attest to a technical mastery perfectly sustained.

Concept and aesthetics come into a fine balance here.

Bandau’s process reiterates the fundamental technique of traditional watercolor: articulation of color and figure by transparent layering. And his planar compositions ripple outward to claim the page’s edges illusionistically as an invented perimeter.

Two steel floor sculptures by Bandau function very differently, though they too involve interlocking planes.

To understand them, one has to think about their dependence on gravity and look very carefully at their profiles and how the minimal elevation in each piece is achieved.