helmut lang



04.16.16 - 08.21.16

dallas contemporary



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Text by Neville Wakefield


Lang works with form, volume, light and the material history of objects and things to create enigmatic sculptural presences that hover in the space between abstraction and figuration. Sheepskins, once the providers of organic warmth, have here been hardened into painting-like beds whose original function is retained only as memory.


The transformation of one material into another—the destructive distillation of wood into tar and then of soft fleece into hard surface—extends the original impulse of protective preservation into the realm of perversity. Here, the distress of found objects becomes the starting point for a larger meditation on acts of creative destruction and the gestures of reassembly and renewal that attend them.


The fleeces draw on ancient symbolism. The myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece was probably based on the actual practice of using sheepskin as a way of capturing and separating gold from alluvial fluids.


The beds are markers of rest as well as regeneration, but also take the shape of the sluicing boxes used by miners to separate gold from dirt. In this sense they carry the promise of alchemy, of both an afterlife and the creation of precious material out of the flow of material and everyday life.


All the work carries with it this promise of material in flux. In Lang’s hands the sheepskin that began life as protection, then enters the artist vocabulary of materials as decorative covering. He then transforms its meaning once again by separating it from its decorative/protective purpose. As the soft fleeces are hardened into sculpture so they accumulate a different set of meanings, this time the entire mythology of material transformation that begins with the promise of gold and ends with the idea of royal or divine power.


Installed as it will be in the space of the Dallas Contemporary the different works hover between wall and floor. Some are attached directly to the wall, other larger ones lean casually against it with others lying directly on the floor. With these shallow relief forms marking out the x, y, z axes of the space, Lang draws our attention to the idea of interior volume. In it he places or suspends the three-dimensional sculpture to create an echo chamber in which meaning reverberates from wall to ceiling to floor, thereby placing or identifying the viewer as active in the completion and understanding of the work.


Just as the viewing plane situates the works at the intersection of sculpture and painting, wall and surface, so the shifting of genres dislocates the repurposed sheepskin from protective covering to liminal object.