Stefan Brüggemann Open Menu

The acrylic paintings, made in an unlimited series of unique works, combine block colours or abstract colour fields with a recurring text. The machine-cut vinyl letters are applied to the painted ground by hand. The canvases range from sober, monochrome renditions that lean towards conceptual interpretation, to painted manifestations of vibrant acid-coloured actions.

As in much of Brüggemann’s work, the relationship between language and image is a central concern. At times the text dominates the foreground, whilst at others it gives the appearance of being partially buried in the painted field. Each work thus features a new arrangement of image and text that expands on a productive, yet unstable relationship that becomes especially patent when several works are displayed together in blocks.

The text itself appears as an extended quotation, but one that might have been appropriated from multiple sources – part William Burroughs cut-up, part concrete poem, part uncreative writing - finally atomised and recombined. It refers to an idea of how the self and the external world interpenetrate, accompanied by the frantic pulse of time. The ‘beat’ in the title distinguishes abstract time from lived duration; one provides a verifiable measurement, while the other stresses an experiential quality.

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The title Cartoon Paintings refers to a body of works that appropriate an original satirical cartoon from the series How to look at looking by the American artist Ad Reinhardt made in the late 1950s. The cartoon mocks the common reception of Abstract Expressionism, with a besuited visitor pointing to a painting and asking ‘What does this represent?’. The painting startles him with the retort ‘What do you represent?’.

Brüggemann pastes multiple inkjet prints of the cartoon onto white canvases or mirrors before adding small hand applied brushstrokes in black oil paint and ink in patterns that recall digital patination.

The works operate as a reflection on our contemporary internet culture of ‘ctrl + copy + paste‘ a phenomenon inconceivable when the cartoon was first published. The means of reproducing images have developed from laborious manual application and screenprinting to instant digital impression, while our relationship with information has undergone a wholesale transformation from precious resource to overabundant material. Though attitudes and technologies have changed, Brüggemann reminds us that Reinhardt’s question about how we understand perception itself, however, remains as potent as ever.

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Conceptual Decoration articulates Brüggemann’s interest in contradiction and paradox, themes which he returns to frequently in his work.

The installation of variable dimensions envelops each gallery space or site in specially designed silver wallpaper spelling out the words ‘conceptual decoration’ in black print. Conceptual art, with its insistence on the idea, rather than on presentation or form, would appear to be irreconcilable with the practice of decoration. Indeed, concepts largely eschew the aesthetic dimension of craft or embellishment, seen as retrograde or decadent. And yet, the work is sited precisely at the threshold of these distinct attitudes. The installation is at once a well-decorated room, and a work of art, while its title or proposition resonates throughout the space.

The text - infinitely repeated across the wallpaper - whose print size is comparatively small and can be read with the naked eye only when moving into close-range. From a distance the amalgam of text set against a reflective silver background gives the impression of an oscillating moiré effect, usually experienced when two patterns are overlaid. The artist comments: ‘I like the rhythm that this combination creates. It flickers. It looks straightforward but it contains an aggressiveness.’ Here, language ceases to function as a means of signification and instead reverts to an attractive surface that plays tricks on the eye, a mutable skein responsive to the viewer’s movement.

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The work forms part of a larger body of sculptures that replicate standard architectural features. Made from high-grade stainless steel, the Exit Door series comprises double and single emergency door-panels fitted with push bars. The panels differ in dimensions and feature a unique set of handles. Material variants include polished stainless steel, matt black and gold, among other finishes. They are made specifically for each exhibition and installed flush-fitted; they mimic the appearance of an actual fire exit though they do not open. By removing the functional aspect of the object - its use-value - the artist draws attention to our inability to escape while accentuating its material and visual qualities. There are clear resonances of Minimal art, in particular in the work’s reference to the machine aesthetic espoused by artists such as Carl Andre or Donald Judd. In that sense, the Exit Door series does not conform to the notion of sculpture at all, aligning itself rather with Judd’s description of what he termed ‘specific objects’ contending that ‘a shape, a volume, a colour, a surface is something itself. It shouldn't be concealed as part of a fairly different whole. The shapes and materials shouldn't be altered by their context.’1 1. Donald Judd, in Perspecta 11, 1967, p.44, quoted in James Fitzsimmons, Art International, Vol 23. 1979, p.69.

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Headlines and Last Line in the Movies is a series comprised of unique works started in 2010. The Headlines are always taken from the news of the week during which the work is being produced. The Last Line(s) are quoted from a list of historically important dramatic films (running from, say, Citizen Kane to The Wolf of Wall Street). The list is updated each time the series is extended. The artist selects text from both newspapers and the cinema, therefore juxtaposing everyday reality and constructed fiction. No value judgment is intended, however, and he gives equal billing to each set of statements. Both movies and the news are important reflections of our culture that not only influence, but also manipulate the public’s comprehension of society. To the artist, the texts of Headlines & Last Line in the Movies function as maxims that shape and underpin social constructions.

The works can also be configured as large-scale site-specific installations that surround the viewer. Here the spray-painted texts may cover the actual gallery walls, or be applied to mirror surfaces or marble panels. On these occasions, the texts are not simply read as more or less remote pieces of information, but become immersive experiences embodied by the audience.

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The twin subjects of reproduction and scale underpin the works in this series. Photographs of particular details are digitally augmented so as to become illegible, while text is added via photoshop. The resulting screenshot is then printed on aluminium and finally spraypainted by hand.

A central feature of contemporary culture is the indistiction of scale; this phenomenon may be experienced in the shrinking of distance in a global society, or through the ability of digital media to loosen the connections between an original and its reproduction, along with the fixed nature of scale and context implied by these relationships. Put simply, a traditional object or picture has a direct physical and spatial relationship with the beholder, while its digital counterpart does not. The impact of these technologies has been extensive, leading to the loss of the aura through mass-reproductions and a concomitant fluidity of scale. Brüggemann’s paintings seek to combine the speed and plasticity of the digital with the intervention of gesture, juxtaposing an aesthetics of disappearance with the romanticism of human agency.

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Hyper-Palimpsest brings together two existing bodies of work: Brüggemann’s 45 Text Pieces (1997-2019) are presented in juxtaposition with his Headlines and Last Line in the Movies (2019). In the space, the audio installation Text Pieces Read by Iggy Pop (2019) plays for fifteen minutes of every hour. These elements are overlaid in a process the artist calls ‘obliteration’. Brüggemann is interested in this process of layering as a correlative to the unfettered accumulation of information in the digital age. In much the same way that an oversaturation of all the colours tends to black, Hyper-Palimpsest plays with the idea that an excess of inputs leads to an erasure of content: and so it posits the aesthetic of our control-copy control-paste, 24-hour news society as an ever-obliterating palimpsest of digital white noise.

The installation is a space for contemplation that challenges the audience to engage, to walk right up to the work, so that they might begin to see past the initial impression of black to the mark making and the layers of work. Within this space of visual obliteration, Iggy Pop’s reading of Brüggemann’s largely indiscernible Text Pieces interplays with that which we can and cannot see. His iconic voice inflects Brüggemann’s 45 original writings with an array of intonations and textures that add a sculptural dimension to the sound. Iggy Pop’s voice emphasises the mutability of language as it effaces the authorial voice of the artist.

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Brüggemann describes his epigrammatic HYPER-POEM as ‘slogans’ written as part of the greater body of his Text Pieces. These laconic texts use the kind of language we most often encounter in our immidate accelerated digital lives. Such set phrases have a semiotic character, like hazard symbols, that evokes learned responses. The presentation of this language as a kind of foreshortened modern poetics offers a caustic perspective on that modernity, while the staccato rhythms of these sloganistic lines of poetry perform the relentlessness of newsfeed culture.

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In the series Inverted Mirrors Brüggemann reverses the function and legibility of a material object – facing mirrored surfaces against the wall to eradicate reflection. The simple gesture employed by the artist functions as a form of negation, a denial of the expected. Displayed as a single work, it withholds the beholder’s own image, while shown as an installation it is essentially performative through the ability to void the room. The viewer is invited to inspect the verso of the mirrors as if they were dysfunctional paintings or prints refusing to conform to the standard requirement of images, that is, their display modality.

As is often the case, contradiction resides at the heart of Brüggemann’s stance, but affirmation and negation are not to be understood as fixed positions – rather, they underscore the presence of a relationship between opposites in which both are held to be true and all things have an antipode.

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The works combine Brüggemann’s concern with painterly gesture as a form of performative action and his commitment to working in situ.

In each canvas, the spraypainted statement make me is completed by the verbs see, think, and feel. Each completed sentence commands the reader or viewer to undertake a performative action, since it seeks to induce a change in the sensory perception of the writer. It is of course a futile demand, since the audience and the artist are unlikely to come together before the work.

The second aspect of the paintings addresses the mutability of display, signified by the relationship between the work and the context of the gallery-space, a recurring theme in the artist’s oeuvre. Each painting is made on site, and a large part of the writing exceeds the boundaries of the canvas. After the exhibition, once the canvas is removed or sold, the residue of text remains on the gallery wall, to be overpainted prior to the next exhibition. Outside of the original exhibition site the displaced canvases have thus ‘lost’ the writing that does not fit within its frame. In this way, Brüggemann points to the differences between a classic or hermetic work of art and the event of an exhibition. Here, the work is explicitly altered by the gesture or action of its display.

The Make Me series is extended by works in neon in which the tubes are fixed to a wall and spraypainted with the words of the title. The action blanks out sections of the neon light emanating from the unit, and extends the writing across the surface of the supporting wall.

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Light has been an essential means of expression throughout art history, and it became a material in its own right in the early decades of the 20th century and finally coming into its own as a medium for artists by the 1960s. The appeal of light is that it offers shape and form to both objects and space, whilst its waves suggest a dynamic entity.

Brüggemann’s Monuments for the Ceiling series comprises individual works assembled from fluorescent tubes that can be presented as individual sculptures or as an installation. The works refer to the iconic light sculpture series Monument for V.Tatlin (1964-1990) by seminal artist Dan Flavin, which utilises mass-produced fluorescent tubes to evoke Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised Monument to the Third International (1919). Tatlin’s gigantic steel and glass tower is conjured up by Flavin, not by an object made from standard lightbulbs, but by the effect on the space created by the carefully calibrated luminous projection.

Contrary to Flavin’s work, which is wall-based, Brüggemann displays his lights on the ceiling; by inverting their original position the neon tubes are returned once more to their primary use as industrial light fittings, stressing the disparity between their everyday use and their effect as a monumental sculpture. Moreover, Brüggemann’s reference to an existing work stresses the quotational nature of the conceptual heritage, which is enacted through continuous appropriation.

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Text-works tend towards the condition of images, regardless of their clear relationship with language. In other words, they conform primarily to the way we concern ourselves with images. This position appears to be vindicated when such text-images attempt to dissociate themselves from their linguistic roots by means of erasure or overwriting of text, rendering it illegible. Brüggemann’s Neon Obliteration series employs differently coloured and continuous neon tubing that is bent and overlapped to give the impression of a hastily scratched or drawn line. The action invoked in the title – obliteration – suggests that something beneath is being made invisible or erased. But if a text is crossed out, it does not cease to exist, it remains as a reminder of a previous action, it becomes part of the work’s history in the manner of a palimpsest. Writing and unwriting are not binary but dialectical terms.

Furthermore, unwriting is equally a textual strategy, albeit an oppositional one. It might be imagined that the erasure of the text rendered the work even closer to an image, to be read in formal terms. But, on the contrary, the absence of intelligible words underscores the loss of language; here, the text has ceased to signify in a direct manner, its meaning has been displaced. Nevertheless, that palpable absence of something once present makes us feel its loss to an even greater extent. Finally, what happens when the act of erasure is placed into a void? When erasure precedes writing, when there is nothing to be deleted? What remains is the action of elimination, a gesture without apparent purpose. As nothing eliminated yet, the action is placed in the future; in other words, the gesture anticipates a postponed erasure that might happen at some future stage. By putting the effect before the cause, the artist breaks language’s link with the past, with memory. Instead, the task of unwriting projects us into an anticipation of what is to come: a future tense. Once more, the act of visual perception renders us blind; the unintelligible text suggests that we have lost touch with the past, as we are unable to see what was once visible. We must wait for the unwriting’s next application, sometime hence. The spectator is resigned to waiting; what is no longer cannot be retrieved, and what is to come cannot be divined. Unable to access the past and the future, we find ourselves locked in a perpetual present divested of our sight.

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The principle of annotation is invoked in the works entitled Note Paintings. Notes are generally perceived as precursors to a final and more authoritative text, while in an artist’s studio they refer to preparatory sketches or a visual shorthand of influences. In an information society, characterised by a surfeit of material, we experience the flattening out of hierarchies of selection, a process that turns consumers into hoarders. Visual and textual elements comingle, and their provenance is reduced to being negligible.

In this context, the personal archive of the artist provides a more stable method of collection and filtration. After all, artistic practice is typified by aesthetic and curatorial methodologies and choices. Brüggemann’s own notes, photographs, or pages from magazines serve as a reference body from which items are drawn to include in the paintings; these are then screen-printed onto canvas to provide a fugitive and liminal activity with a definitive presence and highlighting the importance of process.

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Brüggemann’s series Obliterated Mirrors examines the relationship between the viewer and the art object. He maintains that he wants to place the spectator in ‘an existential position’. The artist overpaints part of the mirror-plate with opaque, aluminium paint to restrict its reflective properties and to induce curiosity. He argues that ‘I paint on the mirror, trying to cover as much as possible so when you look at the work you see a bit of yourself but not completely, it’s like you’re erasing yourself, blocking any type of communication. In this way, the artist suggests that the act of looking at artworks always combines a degree of narcissism with the search for novelty.

Furthermore, if contemporary art presents specific complex messages that seek universal understanding, they may find greater approval when tailored to each individual. Brüggemann plays with the ubiquity of the mirror as an emblem of present-day culture to accentuate the self-conscious relationship between the observer and the image.

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In this body of canvas works the artist overpaints screenprinted images and text pieces with silver aluminium paint, to the point where the original information becomes illegible. The viewer is afforded glimpses of the original information whilst being prevented from gaining a clear reading of the work. The luminous quality of the silver paint contrasts sharply with the grainy images concealed through the gestural application; the artist’s tactic of partial concealment promotes an enhanced relationship with the paintings’ surface, one of the key principles of painterly abstraction.

Moreover, the principle of obliteration or erasure - a recurring feature of art from the 1960s onwards – serves as a means of critiquing hegemonic systems, that is, places and instances invested with power. Here, the general critique is levelled at the institution of art, and, more specifically, its most prevailing medium to create images: painting.

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Brüggemann’s work employs a quotational methodology that links it to aesthetic movements and objects from the classic period of Modernism, in particular to Minimal and Conceptual art. Outdoor Sculpture references Minimal artist Donald Judd’s Donald Judd Pivot Doors installed at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. The floor-to-ceiling quartered design - employed also in the windows at the foundation - are a recognizable trademark of Judd’s.

While Judd’s wooden doors are functional, in that they close one space of from another, Brüggemann’s 1:1 scaled replica is clad in stainless steel and is intended for outdoor installation. By siting it in a landscape, Brüggemann removes the binary of inner and outer. The altered context thus presents the work with a new set of coordinates in which the opposition between interior and exterior space is replaced by circularity, as the door spins freely on its pivot. Moreover, it may be also be read in in reference to Marcel Duchamp’s seminal Porte, 11 Rue Larrey (1927), a door hinged precisely in the corner between two openings placed at 90 degrees, resulting in the doors being simultaneously open and closed.

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Puddle Paintings employ elements such as handwritten words and combine them with the raw application of poured aluminium paint. The artist’s use of a double negative – the term ‘NO’ and its partial concealment – extends his interest in repetition ad infinitum.

The appearance of coagulated silver paint makes direct reference to techniques of abstract expressionism and the notion of gestural action. In particular they allude to Jackson Pollock’s ‘drip’ technique deemed powerfully expressive. The ‘New York School’ used abstraction to deliver a specific emotional charge; progressively the canvas became an arena in which to act, and, according to seminal critic Harold Rosenberg, was transformed from a picture to an event.

Brüggemann’s works echo the critique of painting and attempts to further erode the tropes of personal expression, namely style and signature. The resulting canvases function as ‘anti-paintings’ since they fulfil but the most rudimentary conditions of painting, yet are entirely lacking in emotion and painterly quality.

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Brüggemann’s works are emblematic of the Contemporary: they comment upon and critique the mechanisms, institutions and tools of art today; indeed, it is arguable that it is no longer possible to make relevant work that does not acknowledge the artworld as a framing device to some degree.

The naming of an exhibition is precisely one of art’s conventions and Showtitles presents a critical and innovative perspective on the subject. An exhibition conventionally gathers artworks to demonstrate a set of aesthetic or conceptual relations. For Showtitles Brüggemann accepts this convention but refrains from making exhibitions, preferring only to name them. His proposal is to conceive of over 1000 exhibition titles and to make them available to artists and curators through a website, to be attached to potential exhibitions they might curate. In the event of a selection, the curator closes the circle by simply sending an invitation of the new exhibition to Brüggemann.

In addition, Showtitles has been exhibited as a conventional exhibition featuring all the titles created by the artist. They act as a properly numbered archive, an inventory of possible curatorial propositions. In this instance, the notion of exhibiting becomes a hypothetical experience that exists only in the mind of the spectator, since no particular show is actually being staged.

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The art market and the rise of speculative investment provide the particular concerns for the set of 6 grey paintings that display their actual price. In each case the value is incrementally different by relatively modest margins, although the works are otherwise formally identical. The title refers to tautology, a term derived from ancient Greek rhetoric, and which signifies a persuasive argument that repeats an assertion using different phrasing whose proposition is logically irrefutable.

Brüggemann states that what interests him is ‘the notion that people buy prices rather than works. I priced the work in US dollars, speculating that it won’t be the dominant currency of the future. Similar to some buyers of art, I’m speculating on their value by connecting them to a certain currency value.’

The broader comment concerns the move away from art collecting as an integral activity, to art as a new kind of asset class. In this case, the aesthetic or cultural merits of works are superseded by the monetary worth. In other words, artworks themselves become units of abstract value against which further capital may be raised.

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The series Text Pieces provide the underpinnings to the artist’s oeuvre, and the first such works date back to 1997 underlining his interest in language. Fixed directly to the wall, the graphic identity of these vinyl texts remains consistent through the use of the Arial bold typeface, though point sizes can vary depending on location.

The content and commentary provided by them covers a wide area of aesthetic, cultural and philosophical concerns; they address the institutional context, discuss artworks as products, consider the contested ground of authorship, and examine emptiness and negation. The relationship between words and images is central to the legacy of conceptual art; it suggests a conflation between form and content, or between the artwork and the idea described by Joseph Kosuth as the central inquiry into the concept of ‘art’ that supposedly underpins the practice.

Moreover, Brüggemann’s often provocative statements are generally propositional since they ask the viewer to consider and take up a position. In this way, they are both temporal and collaborative. The texts are provisional observations to be completed by an engagement with the spectator. They then impress themselves as thoughts into the latter’s consciousness.

‘Thoughts’, as Brüggemann argues in one of the works, ‘are products’. Here, the notion of a conceptual product loosens the direct link between the author and object. It suggests that products are able to develop a more autonomous position allowing them to circulate with greater freedom in line with the tenets of market capitalism. The artist’s statements are thus at once unique and endlessly reproducible, as well as rapidly installed and removed, so as to be instantly responsive and flexible products. The works’ mutability links them to a dialectics of presence and absence so essential to the affect of the commodity.

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The series is comprised of individual Time Paintings and installations. Its central motif is the use of a text taken from an earlier work by the artist entitled Time (2014). The text is an observation on Contemporary society in which accelerated time ceases to be perceived as linear and becomes blurred. When events no longer follow one another but are sped-up and therefore compressed into a single space, we are left with an impression of stasis. The black and white vinyl text is applied to different surfaces such as mirror, canvas and wood, and generally overlaid with aluminium paint.

In much of his textual work Brüggemann argues for a complete absence of process, as he is well aware of the fetishistic possibilities of an activity that takes place away from the viewer's scrutiny. Thus, the artist proceeds swiftly from concept to execution. Process is often reduced to the blink of an eye, a minimal witness to the speed of transfer between idea and material presence. The hand of the artist remains invisible throughout his work since manufacture and installation are activities usually performed under his instruction by others, from skilled craftsmen to gallery assistants.

Brüggemann's general refusal to mystify process results in a lack of codification in the work, in transparency. In these works, however, the artist allows the industrial materials of paint, mirror and raw canvas to act as supporting structures for a series of simple gestures. Contrary to traditional painting however, their efficacy is not framed by craftsmanship or duration, but by speed and decisiveness.

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Trap Door extends Brüggemann’s preoccupation with standard industrial assemblage. Though its appearance may resemble a readymade – an existing product - the work’s minimal look echoes a similar industrial unit but is actually a bespoke object made from non-slip stainless steel and inserted flush into the ground. It plays with the idea of the unconscious as it purports to offer access to what ‘lies beneath’. Though the object may suggest the existence of an underground chamber it does so purely by association, since the viewer’s recognition of an artifact or architectural detail is bound up with the pictorial recollection of a similar, prior experience.

It is arguable that the lack of pathos or emotional persuasion in much post-Conceptual work might be related to the understanding that images simply fulfill the role of the placeholder, a stand-in for the unpresentable. And, according to the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, the task of postmodern art is encapsulated in the attempts to present the unpresentable. But since it cannot be represented as itself, something else is brought in as a substitution. Therefore what is presented may differ substantially in appearance or in meaning from what cannot be shown.

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The body of works entitled Trash Drawings are closely related to the artist’s eponymous paintings. Here, black and white copies of the artist’s notes are individually framed; they can be displayed in tightly bunched horizontal lines and set as part of installations against the backdrop of black Trash Wallpaper.

The artistic gesture of defacing of destroying works is a recurring demonstration of autonomy when faced with an overwhelming systemic power, in this instance the hegemony of the art institutions and the market. It is an assertion that has its roots in the avant-garde under Modernism; it is especially current today as it extends artistic practice to incorporate a form of personal activism that trades aesthetic activity for political engagement. In the artist’s oeuvre, this ‘negative’ relationship with language can ultimately be seen as performative, since it promotes language as an action devised to usher in transformation or change.

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By borrowing elements and strategies of the classic art movements of the 20th Century, Brüggemann seeks to reassess them in the light of the Contemporary; this strategy accounts for a sense of familiarity when encountering the artist’s works, which are, at once, entirely new and yet recognizable. Trash Mirror Boxes (2016) is based on the artist’s ‘minimal pop’ aesthetic, in which elements from key moments of art history intersect. The work comprises a large quantity of reflective glass boxes arranged in stacks of different configurations and numbers, reminiscent of standard packing cartons, an explicit quotation of the seminal Trash (1991) edition by Venezuelan conceptual artist Meyer Vaisman.

The switch from one physical substance to another underlines the objects’ conceptual migration whilst firmly retaining the recollection of its former state. The surface on two sides of each box is screenprinted with the word Trash rendering the mirror-plate opaque. Each imprint is unique and based on the artist’s handwritten repetition of the word. The tops and bottoms of each box also bears the print of packing tape, seemingly keeping it shut. In fact, the replication of this ordinary item, using an entirely different material renders it uncanny - mirror replacing card, image substituting tape.

The stratagem of migration, in which everything is moved from its proper place to another, is patent here as the artist reverses inner and outer, rendering everything rootless. The mirrored boxes cannot be opened, but the artist’s ‘handwritten’ message tells us they contain ‘trash’. Their content is therefore not inside, but appears only on the outside, displayed as an image disguised as a cursory note. Brüggemann points to the unstable nature of today’s information, which is signposted but whose content cannot be verified. The message inscribed on the reflective surface proposes a meaningless content (‘trash’) while the mirror becomes symptomatic of a narcissistic hypercapitalism in which the viewer’s image and the act of consumption are entirely conflated. Brüggemann’s sobering critique appears to be directed at a society of consumption that promotes the insertion of our own image – our singular presence – in order to console us to the realization that its products of desire are indeed worthless.

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The canvases feature silkscreened texts written or gathered by the artist overpainted with the word ‘trash’. It is as if Brüggemann were dismissing the previous output as being worthless. This gesture is related to the practice of erasure and obliteration, techniques employed elsewhere by the artist. Words and statements are addressed similarly to found objects that have a longer tradition in art; they are removed from their intended purpose and turned into a new ‘material’ to be used in his paintings, sculptures, and installations.

Moreover, the works underscore the artist’s preoccupation with a culture of consumption in which all things may be transformed from items of value into worthless trinkets, a process governed by the passage of time and the switching of context. Under Capitalism individuals toil in order to purchase goods, consume them, and discard the remains; it is a system in which objects are exhausted by use, a process that terminates in waste or trash.

Brüggemann draws a subtle distinction between consumer goods and objects of aesthetic value. The latter’s worth is generally more stable as it is related to cultural value, a system defined by patronage and a tightly controlled market and which upholds art’s enduring qualities.

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The discussion of high and low culture has been a recurring feature of art since the late 1950s and the advent of pop. Indeed, the term has become synonymous with subsequent generations, foregrounding popular youth culture in its opposition to the patrician culture of a ruling elite, or indeed to the strictures of academia.

Brüggemann’s Joke and Definition paintings address this ongoing debate by squaring up the two distinct cultural discourses. He appropriates Joseph Kosuth’s series Art as Ideas (1966) and Richard Prince Joke Paintings (1985) by combining the sober dictionary definitions with arcane jokes in a single canvas. Kosuth and Prince have both appropriated and repositioned language through existing tropes: one referencing philosophy, or high culture, the other humour, or popular culture. Moreover, both artists have used ‘readymade’ elements of culture and presented them as works of art.

Brüggemann further expands art’s quotational nature – art in the Contemporary is always in some way about other art – but he refrains from explicit commentary; instead, he allows high culture’s sober authority, and popular culture’s speculative irreverence to coexist and meld with one another. He states that ‘I wanted to put them one on top of the other, making a piece where I did not have any aesthetic decision…all decisions were taken by the artists.[…] My decision is only to put them together, making an intellectual decision that changes everything.’

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