Mark van Yetter
Ebensberger Rhomberg Berlin
Adventure into Space
by Saim Demircan
What’s damning about a view enough to curse it? The title of Mark van Yetter’s show might sound mildly blasphemous however it could well be the disparaging noise of the artist questioning perspective, calling attention to the experience of looking and the obfuscation of it, with, perhaps, one eye peering through the lens of history, given a penchant for antiquity, psychedelia, American modernism and imagery of the ancient past.
This damnation is echoed in the titles of his paintings of exotic vegetation, leafy tropics and moonlit woodlands in two recent exhibitions: Damn Forest (2016) in ‘The Terrifying Abyss of Skepticism’ and Damn Forest at Night (2018) in ‘You can observe a lot by just watching’ that took place a year apart in the same space, at Bridget Donahue Gallery in NYC, the chronology of which fabricating a sense of déjà vu. Where Damn Forest was shown with room around and in front of it though, Damn Forest at Night was hung on the other side of a false wall running the length of the gallery, which one could either walk behind to view privately, or peer at through a roughly- hewn hole cut through the drywall (although this view was partly obscured by a plaster- coated plant pot sat in its hollow; one of several plastered flea market-bought objects that were also displayed in the show).
Two similar landscapes also appear in the show Damn View. Except one of them, the one lending the exhibition its title, is visible only through three rectangular window frames in an otherwise plain interior foregrounded by a coffee table and coat rack, and which could almost be mistaken for decorative wall panelling. Either side of this painting hang four others, split into pairs: Slimball and Securitate directly adjacent are somewhat disconcerting portraits of a man and a woman stood before the same antique vase. Given the intensity of their eyeballing – transfixed at something unseen, perhaps some indescribable horror – that averts their collective gaze into the middle distance,* the point here seems less to ‘invoke the internal structure of the picture- object’ than to frighten it. The row is bookended by Conformist and Rebel, in each of which a dog sits attentively to the left and right of a door that can be partially seen at the edges of the frames. They are also staring, but directly at the viewer. Rousseauian in their anthropomorphism, a particular of many of the animals he painted but perhaps, in particular, of the canine that stares forth amongst the humans figures in Henri Rousseau’s Old Man Juniet's Trap (1908) with a truly bizarre forlorn expression.
The series of paintings appear as stills or panels that (rather than viewed unidirectionally) narrate towards a central point or from the centre outwards, and are executed in strict, linear perspectives. Yet much like the framing devices of Damn Forest at Night, this train of images all present their subjects through windows. Such openings filter what we see in van Yetter’s work, so that the exterior world we are looking at in Damn View is seen as much through how we see the outside from the inside out. “Much of the adventure in the old stories is where they go into regions where no one has been in before. We’ve conquered the planet so there are no empty spaces for the imagination to go forth”, says Joseph Campbell in the 1988 documentary The Power of Myth. Rousseau never saw first-hand the flora and fauna of his imagined jungles and instead Le Douanier disappeared into the ‘empty spaces for the imagination’ based on illustrations and recounted expeditions.
Something similar could be said of W.G Sebald’s travels in his lengthy writing on painting, for instance, in describing Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s Saint Thecla Liberating the City of Este from the Plague (1759) as he moves through the Italian landscape by train or revisiting the Pisanello in the Pellegrini chapel of Sant'Anastasia, when the author could, very feasibly in fact, have been looking at art history books in the library at the university where he worked. In this respect, van Yetter’s filtering seems to occupy such thinking by purposefully creating an aperture onto the imagined potential – through space, through a gaze, or through a framework. By using these as portals to other worlds, in which a window might look like a painting, and in turn, the window becomes a subject in painting, he finds intrigue in what is out of sight or view, off-to-the-side or seen through something else more readily than whats in plain sight.
*Rosalind Krauss, Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, October, Vol. 1. (Spring, 1976), pp. 51 ‘It was commonplace of criticism in the 1960s that a strict application of symmetry allowed a painter “to paint to the center of the canvas” and, in so doing, to invoke the internal structure of the picture-object.’