Ull Hohn / Megan Francis Sullivan: The Unanswered Question

Ull Hohn / Megan Francis Sullivan: The Unanswered Question

Kunsthalle Bern

Left: Ull Hohn, Untitled, 1995. Courtesy the Estate of Ull Hohn and Galerie Neu, Berlin. Right: Megan Francis Sullivan, Jacket Panel (1), 2014. Courtesy the artist and Mathew Gallery.

April 20, 2016
Ull Hohn
Megan Francis Sullivan: The Unanswered Question
April 23–June 5, 2016
Opening: April 22, 6pm
Kunsthalle Bern
Helvetiaplatz 1
CH-3005 Bern

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Working in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when painting was often considered to be too self-involved and lacking in discursive potential, Ull Hohn (born 1960 in Trier, Germany; died 1995 in Berlin) explored ways to think of the medium both aesthetically and conceptually, emphasising the interrelations between artistic subjectivity and a tangible sensibility, as well as the socio-historical conditions of painting.

In late 1986, Hohn moved to New York to participate in the Whitney Independent Study Program, which promised a more theoretically and politically informed understanding of art than his previous education at the art academies in Berlin and Düsseldorf. Developing against the background of the reactionary backlash of the 1980s and the ideologically motivated misrepresentation of the AIDS-crisis, the discourse on identity politics, and a renewed interest in the conceptual practices of the 1960s, Hohn’s work invokes traditional painterly issues, such as the dichotomy of abstraction and figuration or the iconographic and motivic topoi of landscape painting, which serve to articulate distinct conceptions of “nature” and “the natural.” Yet there is a consistent sense of ambivalence; for example he treats his references from an explicitly homosexual perspective or uses images and instructions by the popular “TV painter” Bob Ross, invoking Ross as a teacher who lacks any art historical legitimization.

Hohn’s final paintings and drawings, created in 1994 and 1995, are based on works from his youth and are titled “Revisions.” Returning to works made before his artistic education, Hohn—who died aged 35 in 1995 due to AIDS-related complications—marks a kind of endpoint to his career by suggesting a scrutinizing, retrospective glance at the productive trajectory of his life. His “Revisions” also serve as reflections on his own history and on the relationship between the process of “becoming an artist” and the state of “being an artist,” considering his youthful autodidactic phase as well as influences from various teachers and institutions.

The Kunsthalle Bern presents the first retrospective of Hohn’s work in Switzerland, in collaboration with the art historians Magnus Schaefer (New York) and Hannes Loichinger (Hamburg/Vienna).

In the exhibition The Unanswered Question, Megan Francis Sullivan (born 1975 in Stamford, CT, USA; lives in Berlin) shows new and older works in a specific setting that refers to structures both inside and outside the Kunsthalle. Aspects of the existing architecture are set in relation to works or objects that can in turn reveal architectural functions. The exchange between forms and functions, inside and outside, materiality and symbolism, thus becomes the actual starting point of the work. Sullivan’s work shuffles seemingly disparate references from areas of art history, design, pop culture, and sport. She makes use of spontaneously found references as much as those that result from intensive research. The process of combining found or bought objects, works made by order, or those created by the artist in the studio emphasizes frameworks that not only make artistic objects visible, but assign them certain meanings or values. Sullivan’s works are formed through techniques like adaptation or inversion that serve to infiltrate the original with subjective, sometimes queer or melancholy perspectives.

The title of the exhibition, The Unanswered Question, refers to the music piece written by the American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954), also born in Connecticut. His work is often called “quirky,” though he is celebrated as a modern composer who juxtaposed different conventional styles within single compositions. About this piece, Leonard Bernstein quotes Ives as saying that while the trumpet “intones the perennial question of existence,” the flutes “seem to realize the futility and begin to mock the question.” With different voices, Sullivan traces iridescent systems of reference in which innuendo, anecdote or analysis all take turns.

Find details on the exhibition program.

With generous support by the city of Bern. The exhibition is supported by the No Leftovers-Fonds. 

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Kunsthalle Bern
April 20, 2016

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