Decisions – by Ace Ehrlich


by Ace Ehrlich

Essay for the Artist Book „paintings/Bilder 2018-2022“,
published on the occasion of the exhibition „Inside Looking Out“ at Moskowitz Bayse, Los Angeles 2022


What’s the most recent decision you made? A click, a thought, a word, a gesture, a glance? To see, to skip, to watch, to like, to scroll, to delete?

Choices, as critical to our humanness as thumbs and language, have become so plentiful that they often present as nothings: expenditures of energy masquerading as inconsequential non-actions. We seek comfort in prearranged decisions and digestible binaries. Do you want to share your friend’s painting, or simply like it? Are you going to watch the recommended show, or go in a different direction? Have you asked your doctor if Lexapro is right for you? Life begins to feel like a constantly widening field of decisions to be made, or ignored, equipped with information that is both more complete and accessible – and more thoroughly mediated – than at any other moment in history.

Even a brief look at one of Franziska Goes’s recent paintings confirms its origin as part of – if not about – our present moment of decision and information glut. The painter, perhaps in sympathy with the viewer, becomes algorithm and arbiter: possibilities, combinations, and outcomes, limited by pre-set decisions, form the colliding circumstances essential to abstraction today. Goes reconstitutes painterly tropes into self-contained windows and discrete formal skirmishes; the visual languages of computer graphics and 20th century abstraction prove as intuitively legible to the 21st century viewer as saintly attributes and divine allusion did to church-going audiences six hundred years ago.

Pop-up windows corral would-be expanses of splattered expression in Am Kap, 2020, while fuzzy horizontals of airbrushed color vibrate behind. The layered picture, made up of interplaying foregrounds and backgrounds, reads closer to a pixelated, hallucinogenic riverscape than an exercise in painting-as-object abstraction. Goes’s predetermined and finite colors – a set of four to seven per picture – conjure the effortless naturalism of corporate palettes, gathered from every imaginable area of life to appear indistinguishable from it. Elastisch Weicher Anfang, 2020, stops just short of suggesting that bowling alley carpet patterning has reached the formal heights of El Lissitzky’s post-constructivist graphic innovations. Widely accepted and largely de-fanged, abstraction, like rock n’ roll and psychedelic drugs, has gone corporate.

Goes’s methodical pursuit of her painterly mandate finds the artist drawing upon primary sources of Modernist abstraction (Gorky, folk weavings, Delaunay) and their corrupted descendants (Solo Jazz Cups, spin art, earlyaughts screensavers), identifying crucial moments of convergence. As though testing the supposedly innate ability of color and form to convey meaningful emotion, Goes scrolls through mark-making techniques, finding clashes, pairings, and proportions that work, and don’t work, in a painting. Without making value judgements – the work does not call for them – Goes identifies a collapsed arena in which the whole of historical visual material, now readily available, haphazardly diffuses out through algorithms and search query preferences to a staggeringly multifaceted and increasingly receptive audience.

Of course, swaths of that audience have wised up to the calculated deployment of visual data as a precision tool for ushering in prescribed emotions and canned feelings. In Gefühl für Poesie/Purpurblau, 2021, for example, the painting’s five colors run lengthwise alongside one another like swelling river channels, offering the viewer a summation of the picture’s moody bones right in its compositional center. A single, contained line of yellow splattered over dark green-brown slashes through it, nearly bridging the flicked static on the painting’s right to the lithe, sprayed fissures on its left. These wildly divergent applications of color, texture, and form, feel both lab-tested and immediate, suggesting that their evocative – even manipulative – properties are subjective, mutable, and conditioned.

Indeed, a successful abstract picture calls for a recognition of the factors influencing its audience’s ways of seeing. This has, in the past, given us artworks aesthetically and spiritually indebted to God, machine, cosmos, conquest, and revolution. Birth, death, and sex are dependably present. Today’s abstraction calls for an acknowledgement of the computer, and the innumerable choices it presents at every moment. Our screens feed us images, words, data points, advertisements, invocations, and metered jolts of serotonin. We know the tricks, and yet we invite them into our homes and lives just the same. That’s a choice – although it feels increasingly like a requirement for participation. Perhaps it’s a good thing. Goes’s paintings make no ethical decisions for the viewer, nor call for any specific reckoning to take place. And how could they?

More generously, and more in line with abstraction’s original aims, her paintings suggest ways of organizing thoughts and ideas that are both specific to their moment, and more broadly useful. The computer, by all indications, is here to stay. Its (ironically) incalculable effects on our collective and individual minds weighs heavy, as humankind prepares to tackle – or ignore – climate change, overpopulation, and endemic socio-ethical crises. Goes offers a vision of painting not as a way in or out, but as a system for identifying and unpacking the terminally oversaturated moment we’ve built for ourselves. Exultant, synaptic, twitchy, staid, and considered, Goes’s paintings chronicle an age of enormous possibility, shepherded along and wrought by the waxing mass of trillions of tiny decisions made on screen and canvas alike.