February 3, 2010

Olivia Plender on Jacob Dahlgren

”Since the tubes of paint used by artists are manufactured and readymade products we must conclude that all paintings in the world are ’readymaides aided’ and also works of assemblage”.
Marcel Duchamp, 1961

Jacob Dahlgren is a painter. It is possible to state this without presuming anything about his use of any one material. It would not be unreasonable to class the work as sculpture or installation. It can be 3 dimensional and usually has a relationship to the architecture of the space in which it is shown. However Jacob Dahlgren is a painter beacouse the work references a particular genealogy within the history of art, that belonging to abstract painting.

There is an explicit relationship to the utopian discourses of early modernists, like Signac, Kandinsky or Mondrian, for whom abstraction was to be a new universal language, with colour as its basis. Jacob Dahlgren plays with this established visual language but with a fundamental difference, in that he approaches colour as readymade. Using manufactured products from plastic pegs, to brightly dyed reels of cotton, to household paint, to artists “professional quality” acrylic paint. Colour is as it comes out of the factory, in the order that the pegs were placed in their packet, or selected from a t-shirt or a colour chart.

It is one of the ironies of the twentieth century that the language of abstraction, post the (arguable) failure of the avant-garde, has survived in the world of design and in the appearance of manufactured goods. The first abstract painters sought to push colour into the realms of meaning through the link to social revolution or to the spiritual. But in our pluralistic, post-hierarchical visual culture there is a striking similarity between modernist painting and contemporary product design. By refusing the conventional qualitative distinctions in his choice of materials Jacob Dahlgren examines the contemporary world for signs of abstraction. Like a connoisseur when it comes to recognising Barnett Newman in cheap furniture, an Albers on our plastic mug, or a Baerling in the wallpaper.

Olivia Plender