Svenja Deininger’s “Untitled / Head” at Marianne Boesky Gallery

If you were lucky enough to roam into New York’s Marianne Boesky Gallery between October 17th and November 14th, you were in for a treat. Svenja Deininger’s abstract paintings are a refreshing reminder that we still live in a time of outstanding art making. Her paintings play on each other and, in subtle ways, comment on contemporary art viewing. For example, one painting seems as if it’s gilded when seen in a photograph – but in person, the viewer can see that it’s the artist’s hand and standard colors at work. It’s clear that some works in this exhibit have been worked over and over, adding layers of thought along with paint; others complement this wrought process by being fresh and light with an apparent ease and possibly a single application of paint. Svenja was kind enough to offer Art Orbiter an interview.

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AO:Have you had many solo exhibitions?

Svenja: It depends, but I would say I’ve had more solo exhibitions than I was participating in group exhibitions, which is a fact I like since my work is a lot about the combination of single paintings within an exhibition space and their dialogue between each other.
While installing I often notice that I treat the single works like I would install a group exhibition. Sometimes not all of my favourite works make it into a show, while others I wasn’t intending to show, do….

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AO: That sounds like you had a good amount of say over what was in this exibition. Is that normally the case?

Svenja: Since it is a huge part of my work, I usually do the installations completely myself, which is what I did with both shows at Marianne Boesky Gallery. [Marianne Boesky and Adrian Turner] were in London for Frieze during installing, and then they saw the final installation at the day of the opening. Maybe that says it all… and that is also the only thing that I usually ask for: 100 percent control, one could say. It is of course different with curated group shows, but once I show a couple of works together, I am always involved in installing them.

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AO: Was this show different than others? In what way?

Svenja: I think each show is in a way different from the former ones congruent to the development and changes in my work. This show is maybe the next step of my former solo exhibition this year in Rome at Federica Schiavo Gallery, where I developed a few shaped canvases related to the very challenging architecture of the space.

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AO: As an artist I found this new development exciting. Are you saying that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t had the exhibition at Federica Schiavo Gallery? Or wasas it something you had been thinking about before that?

Svenja: Basically it was something among other things I wanted to do for quite a while. The show at Federica Schiavo was just a perfect occasion to finally start with it.

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AO: What do you enjoy most about it, dislike most about it,(the process and act of exhibiting)?

Svenja: My work can be like a sentence. It is about combining single paintings in a space like there are single words in a sentence and finally in a story. In their combination there is often a range of intensity. It is about the moment when to stop working on a painting. In this sense I see them as ongoing works. There are often paintings overworked over years as well as there exist works which happen after a short period of working.

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AO: How do you make the decision that a painting is finished?

Svenja: As I said, I want the works to be seen in a way as ongoing works and so it is not about finishing them…it is about the moment when to stop working on them. Sometimes I stop working on a painting and don’t know that it might stay that way… It has to be around in the studio and I often know that for me it is completed after months looking at it. And also sometimes I just know it suddenly…. It has to do maybe with a certain point of concentration during the working process, but also for what in a show I might need the work for…

For the first view they mostly seem to be very straight and logical, but once you spend time looking at them you realize they are not. I wouldn’t describe my work as abstract paintings though I wouldn’t see them as being figurative either.
It is more like a visualization of a general higher idea and, with its materiality and different layers, like a concrete description without bringing the idea to a physical appearance.
Mind and intuition are both involved in the process, which has no pre-established ending.
A conscious decision not to fall into methodologies turns on, welcoming the reoccurrence of a problem or chance. My practice is a sort of negative form of excavation. I think that my works are images that cannot be thought up this way; they are the result of a process-like way of working.
Like trying to give an impulse at the same time as a reaction.
Therefore, once I finished to install the paintings in the exhibition space (which is comparable to the working process of a single work) and the works are having a dialogue, this is the most enjoyable part.

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AO: How did you come to be showing in this venue?

Svenja: I was simply invited by Marianne Boesky and Adrian Turner who both own a couple of my works.

AO: How did they first see your paintings and acquire some of them? 

Svenja: They just saw the work during a fair – I guess it was Art Basel years ago.

AO: Can you tell us how you began exhibiting? What steps happened to get you to this point in your career?

Svenja: It just started that I was invited to several group shows, but I also didn’t show for quite a long time after academy. I was running a project space with an artist friend called Bernhard Brungs in Cologne and after moving to Vienna I was running another project space called Wednesdaybar (together with Nick Oberthaler and Benjamin Hirte). We showed one artist and one DJ every wednesday for a couple of years and I guess that is how I met other artists in Vienna…

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AO: What are you doing in the studio that might not be shown?

Svenja: Eventually everything will be shown; it is just a matter of time. For example, one work in this show took from 2004-2015. It was already shown once in an earlier state and then I continued working on it. I quite often do that…working on both sides of a painting and overworking former works which didn’t make it out of the studio.

AO:So, when you showed this particular work the first time did you have questions about if it was finished? Can you tell me a little more about that piece and how it happened to get a new life in the studio?

Svenja: That is simply something which belongs to my studio practice. I didn’t have any questions about it when I was showing it for the first time – it was just perfect at that time but it stayed with me in my studio and sometimes I simply have an idea [and I] continue working on it. Also, at shows I need very overworked works next to some that I stopped working on after maybe two steps…I need very generous, open works next to some which appear to be very concrete.

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AO: Do you ever do experiments that you allow to fail or is everything fair game for a future show?
Svenja: I would say my whole work is about failure… Basically each work has the risk to fail, as every exhibition can. Normally everything happens at the very last moment and only when everything comes together in the last working week, for example, and I get an idea about the final installation, only then do I know that it functioned again. But I am never sure while working if this will happen again.

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AO: I noticed your paintings are untitled. Why have you chosen to keep them untitled?
Svenja: The paintings have all been untitled for quite some years – just a few sometimes have subtitles.

Once I started with the small canvases (after working for a longer period only on large paper formats), I used “Neuer Anstrich” (“new coating”) as the title for one of them and it made sense to me since this marked a new working period. And further I found it a good title as it would be the last one for quite a while…

Each show has a title, though, which fits with the thought that every show functions like a sentence – and I don’t feel it is necessary to name every single work since the “sentence” is not predefined. As I said before, it appears during the working and installation process.

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Svenja’s work can be seen at:

Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York,

Vienna Martin Janda in Vienna


Federica Schiavo gallery in Rome

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