hadi tabatabai
Artist Work 

14 Pieces

§ Opening Night Preface

Exhibit Photos



Opening Night Preface

by Dr. Maria Müller-Schareck

(Originally spoken in German on the evening of the exhbit opening at kunstgaleriebonn)

"From the Thing Itself" is the name of the first joint exhibition for Werner Haypeter and Hadi Tabatabai. This fairly laconic title indicates various directions for what it might mean. The "thing" may be understood as substance, motif, object, thought, or history, and thus, be related both to the materials used and to what the artists have created up to now. It could even be applied to their fundamental artistic positions.

First, we will take a look at their materials and work processes. Werner Haypeter has a lively interest in industrially processed materials. On the one hand, these are substances sold by construction material businesses—in certain quantities and sizes—and on the other hand, they are substances that may be cast into ever-new forms. Paper plays a significant role in all phases of his work.

By contrast, for several years now Hadi Tabatabai has been realizing his artistic ideas using only a few materials: with wood, acrylic, or paper as carriers, and with threads and paint as the means he uses for placing lines upon this ground, (sometimes also with plaster and mortar). From these, he develops his highly concentrated work which, just as with Haypeter, abolishes the genre boundaries between picture and object.

As a rule, an artist's work is rooted in what has been created prior to this. It always attests to long and painstakingly proven work processes and ways of constructing. This applies in particular to the works by these two artists being shown here:

Hadi Tabatabai (b. 1964) found the path he would pursue at the end of the 1990s and has been following it with great calmness and composure ever since. After unsatisfying forays into figurative painting—and encouraged by his encounter with works by Agnes Martin—he liberated himself from unnecessary ballast, from everything that did not directly have to do with himself. Moreover, as he wrote in 2004 in an article about getting to know the artist he admired so much, he became conscious of the fact that pictures are, above all, a leaving behind of markings, of signs of one's own existence. Since that time, he has been creating his works from a small number of components: The picture carrier is a rectangle, only slightly deviating from a square form, the lines run exclusively in horizontal and vertical directions, the color palette consists solely of black and white. From grids or lines that run parallel, the picture figure takes shape in all of the media he uses. This especially applies in the case of the Thread Paintings, in which the artist replaces the draughtsman's lines with threads he has spanned.

The history of the thread in art is a fascinating one, which has repeatedly led to astonishing picture realizations: In collages by the Cubists and Dadaists, the thread indicates the real world. In the assemblages of the Constructivists, it forms space. In the frottages of Max Ernst it becomes the trigger of chance when the form it takes after being dropped is immediately transferred to the canvas. In the mid-1960s, Fred Sandback discovered it as a means for creating volumes without mass. For Rosemarie Trockel—in a recent group of works—as a strand of wool yarn, it is a line with a resistant life of its own (and always, it also connotes a hint towards traditionally feminine activities). And for the English artist Robert Currie, it is a material, with which geometric structures and complex spatial drawings may be created. Hadi Tabatabai strikes out on a very individual path. He draws, so to speak, with the threads and in doing so, he is particularly interested in the space that is enclosed between the thread and the picture carrier, to be demonstrated here using the large-format Triptych as an example:

From a distance, we recognize an arrangement of gray and black surfaces. The black, horizontally-aligned, rectangular forms, each occupying the extreme upper and lower thirds of the picture carrier, close the triptych to the top and bottom, framing the overall shape. Only at a close-up glance do we perceive that the panels have been covered with tautly spanned threads running above the picture carrier like a transparent second level only a few millimeters above the picture carrier. By overlaying the black picture ground with white threads, blackened in parts, a gray is mixed in or the black is intensified in places where the white threads have virtually been "erased"1  with color.

The lines, contrary to the way Walter Benjamin described them as being the essence of drawing2, do not organize themselves according to the picture ground. Rather, this relationship has been shaken up, so to speak, by the space that forms between the thread and the picture carrier. Each change in our viewing distance or in the fall of light, each new viewing angle, alters the appearance of these works.

In a similar fashion, this applies to the untitled acrylic pieces, in which Hadi Tabatabai draws both on the front and the back of the transparent material of the carrier. The picture carrier has been enclosed between the tightly structured grid overlaid by the acrylic glass sanded to a milky white and the field of strongly present lines drawn on the surface. On account of its transparency, however, we understand this as an extension of space. But one thing is to be stressed here: The vertical lines in the grid and on the surface have been staggered respectively at mid-distance to one another. This emphasizes the autonomy of the inscribed surfaces, and at the same time, condenses the "inner form"—a result of the overlaying—distinguishing itself all the more clearly from the surface of the ground. The tension of this rich relationship between the ground and the figure is perceived mainly from a distance, whereas the staggering in the depth, that mysterious space between the ground and the surface, only reveals itself from up close.

Tabatabai has called one of his groups of works Daruni, a word that stems from Farsi and which designates the inner space in terms of both physical spaces and the inner self. It is a place of seclusion, a protected spot, but also—it occurs to me—could it perhaps be like a resonant body that amplifies the vibrations, and then releases them?

In concentrating on his reduced language of materials and forms that is nevertheless so full of variations, Hadi Tabatabai has liberated himself from all obligations, withdrawing somehow to some interior space. His art is founded in a work process that is also repetitive, and in the deep experiences he manages to gain from this.

Werner Haypeter, by contrast, is almost an adventurer when he sets out to explore substances at once familiar and mysterious to the point of understanding them well enough to use them confidently for implementing his artistic deliberations. And he is constantly searching for relationships: between the studio and the real world, between revealing and concealing, between surfaces and bodies.

First of all, there are the new works on paper: All colors, all forms, have been accomplished exclusively by cutting, folding, overlaying with paint, and stacking, as well as treating equally the front and back sides of the sheet of paper. The circular form, which has been showing up in Haypeter's work sporadically since the end of the 1980s, has been cut freehand here. The unusually irregular outlines attest to this. This group of works goes back to the "Jahresgabe", a work by the artist selected in 2012 for the annual sale sponsored by the Bonner Kunstverein, consisting of a rectangular wooden frame that incorporates three wooden discs, each staggered behind the next, their respective centers displaying a circle of the same size that has been cut out. The discs may be moved in a way that the circular form narrows to become elliptic as a result of the overlapping.

The circle also dominates the very recent untitled work No. 208. Here, Haypeter places the striking, restless surface of oriented strand boards in a dialogue with the diaphanous materiality and sleekness of epoxy resin. At the same time, this is a dialogue between the straight and the round, between the ponderousness of the square and the dynamics of the circle, between opacity and transparency. Two sides of the precisely worked wooden block each open to the fall of light and its corollary, deep shadow. The inner relationship between the components comes by way of the weight: The total weight of all forms cast in resin corresponds to the weight of the wood it would take to fill the blocks formed by the closed walls. Our astonishment comes to mind at a tiny lump of metal having the same weight as a big sack full of feathers.

Finally, Structure warrants mention here, a work some of you will have already seen this past spring in Cologne at the exhibition space during the Art Cologne. There as well, Structure was fixed between the floor and the ceiling, although back then, you could walk around it and there had only been one wall to serve as a frame of reference. Here the construction now fills a small room. In all, the 84 aluminum tubes with fluorescent color markings describe a total of 7 volume-less cubes that enmesh with one another. The dimensions of the tubes go back to the work Inside Out, which was realized in 2009/10 on the facade of the Wiener Forum für experimentelle Architectur (Vienna Forum for experimental Architecture), whose measurements and proportions the artist developed directly from those of the building. Here as well, there are underlying rules, which we most likely do not recognize, but whose presence we feel nevertheless. And which the artist also reveals: All of the yellow markings, when unrolled onto the surface, add up to comprise an overall surface, whose outline has now been fixed on the floor with tape. Clearly, its position has been shifted from its center to form a diagonal. Here is where the room, which owing to fluorescent paint starts to glow when it gets dark, takes its dynamics. It is then continued in each individual tube and its direction of movement, in the enmeshing and the partial thrust to the ceiling and walls. We are surprised to recognize that this work, developed from the relationship of surfaces, only marks them in the room with lines—that is, with tubes and tape.

Of course, Werner Haypeter is not concerned with mathematical calculations. Rather, in equal measures he uncovers and conceals the hidden relationships between things, between forms, dimensions, and weights. This may only come about by keeping in constant touch with specialists who have developed and tested the materials for entirely different tasks.

Elementary forms, the renouncing of an expressive signature and any narrative, a reduced palette of colors, complex work processes, precision and craftsmanship, all of this unites the oeuvres of the two artists presented here in dialogue. The artists are likewise united by the approach from which they develop their work. This takes place quietly and with utter concentration—and in doing so, by reacting to the work process itself, whereby Hadi Tabatabai immerses himself contemplatively into its flow, while Werner Haypeter understands it as an adventure, whose outcome is full of surprises.

In closing, here is an observation and an invitation at the same time, something Agnes Martin noted in 1966 in a letter to Barbara England: "The artist responds, the observer responds. If no one responds, the work does not exist. Please study your response to art very carefully…"3

— Dr. Maria Müller-Schareck

  1. Quoted from Melissa E. Feldman, "True Grid: The Art of Hadi Tabatabai" in Hadi Tabatabai. Daruni exhibition catalogue of the Anthony Grant Gallery, New York / Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco, 2007, unpaginated text.
  2. "Die graphische Linie bezeichnet die Fläche und bestimmt damit diese, indem sie sich selbst als ihrem Untergrundzuordnet. (The graphic line inscribes the surface and determines that this serves as its own ground)." Walter Benjamin, "Über die Malerei oder Zeichen und Mal. (Painting, or Signs and Marks.)" in idem, Gesammelte Schriften, edited by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, Frankfurt am Main 1977, p. 603.
  3. Agnes Martin in a letter to Barbara England, ca. 1966, quoted from Christine Mehring, "Agnes Martin Aspiration" in Drawing is a Another Kind of Language. Recent American drawings from a New York Private collection, exhibition catalogue, Harvard University Art Museum / Kunstmuseum Winterthur, among others, 1997, p. 140.

Dr. Maria Müller-Schareck is a curator at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

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