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Sensuous Concepts:
Karin Sander's "Wall Pieces" at the ibc

Chalk, ivory, snow: the color white is ordinarily considered to be neutral. Yet despite that, it's charged with a large number of possible meanings. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Karin Sander prefers to use the color. The Berlin-based artist's subtle interventions at a wide variety of sites question the viewer's fleeting perceptions and call attention to unexpected connections. Christiane Meixner introduces Sander's work and her highly polished "Wall Pieces" at the ibc in Frankfurt.

Polished "Wall Pieces" in the entrance hall of the ibc in Frankfurt, 2004
Photo: Martin Lauffer

There was something magical about the buildings' hallways. Old buildings were falling apart everywhere in the Polish city of Lodz, yet the stone tunnels that Karin Sander meticulously plastered and painted in several locations around the city shined in such a brilliant white that, standing inside them, one felt far removed from any one place or time. For the artist, the White Passageways that she realized in 1990 were symbols of a situation in transition: Poland was on its way to a new social reality, and no one knew how things would turn out in the end. The bright passageways seemed to promise something wondrous – even though they merely led into bleak courtyards.

White Passageways, 1990, Lodz
©Karin Sander

In Karin Sander's work, everything eventually leads to the color white. Not only because "it's usually already there" (Sander) when the artist inspects the spacial properties of the places she chooses to work in; white walls also suggest neutrality. Yet it's precisely this that gives rise to doubt, because the color is laden with so many different meanings. Among other things, it symbolizes a purity and transcendence intrinsic to the artist's work, which uses the color white in every possible shade: ivory like the color of the chicken eggs that Sander carefully polished years ago, snow-white like the canvases of the series Gebrauchsbilder, which she merely grounds before discussing with the collector which intervention should provide the picture's patina – snow on a terrace, a car ride in a convertible, or the dust of a coal cellar. Or, finally, harsh white like the walls of the ibc, in whose foyer Deutsche Bank commissioned Karin Sander to realize two Wall Pieces in 2004.

Hühnerei poliert, roh, Größe 0, 1994
©Karin Sander

The title sounds far more objective and technical than the two works actually are. Sander undertakes minimal interventions, adjusting them precisely to the location the work is conceived for. An inconspicuous, yet in terms of handicraft laborious intervention that a negligent passer-by probably wouldn't even notice: to the right and left of the glass entranceway to the ibc, two large wall areas four by four meters in size were sanded over a period of weeks using progressively finer sandpaper until their monochrome surfaces resembled those of the eggs whose shiny shells are even visible in the photographs, reflecting the room in curved form. The two rectangular wall surfaces at the ibc have many functions. They reflect the light entering the space; they resemble windows or surfaces of water; they optically enlarge the room and emphasize the symmetry of its architecture. Above all, however, they bear witness to two tendencies in Karin Sander's work that mutually exclude one another. One of these lies in the rigorous concept countering the cool materials of the foyer situation at the Deutsche Bank headquarters with its own repellant, highly polished surface. But then one feels attracted to the sensuous smoothness of the Wall Pieces and would like more than anything to touch them – as though Karin Sander had added a perfectly smooth skin to the chalk-white plaster.

"Wall Pieces" at the ibc in Frankfurt, 2004
Photos: Martin Lauffer

Since the mid-eighties, a seemingly light-footed approach to contrasts such as these has been the hallmark of this important German contemporary artist, whose works often effect no more than a minimal alteration to a given situation. A hole in the wall diverts the gaze from an isolated white cube to the city outside (Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, 1993); a simple pencil line at eye level divides the gallery space horizontally like a sharp incision (Galerie Ute Parduhn, Düsseldorf 1989), or a wall of glass panes looks onto the pock-marked structure of the wallpaper (Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 1994). It only gradually becomes clear that Karin Sander inserted the same white wallpaper behind the glass frames to optically duplicate a given situation, shifting the focus from the art itself to the aesthetic conditions under which it is exhibited. Sander sees her interventions not as a radical shift whose quality is measured in the greatest possible divergence to its origin; what matters is what is intrinsic to a specific object.

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