Gwenaël Rattke to Romer Young: Meditations on Highway Driving

For many of us, highways are a way to get quickly from point A to point B. We often don’t consider the structure of the thing we’re flying over (or passing) unless we find ourselves stopped above, wandering below or contemplating its construction or demolition.

But Berlin-based artist Gwenaël Rattke has crafted a whole show around the form and function of highways, drawing inspiration from his experiences in Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin and Mexico City. The exhibition, his sixth at the Romer Young Gallery in San Francisco, bears the deliciously composed title of Stadtautobahnmeditationenwhich literally translates to “City Highway Meditations”.

The exhibition is a series of framed serigraphs and collage works, hung one by one at first, then in a dense cluster of two rows. Like the long shot of a film, the works on paper move from an overview of a dense metropolis to individual recognizable structures, and finally, to more abstract compositions of fluorescent colors and geometric shapes. These latter pieces look like circuit boards, blueprints, or the vast expanses of psychological space.

Installation view of ‘Stadtautobahnmeditationen’ by Gwenaël Rattke at the Romer Young Gallery. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young Gallery)

Inside elegant silver frames, the works in Stadtautobahnmeditationen show traces of Rattke’s careful approach to combining layers of information. Sometimes that evidence is as immediate as a torn edge. In other places it appears in cut and glued pieces of paper, or in the slight wobble of a not entirely flat surface. Rattle’s work is graphic, but it’s also done by hand, much like the world of printed materials was before desktop publishing. Instead of seeing the “final” version of these collages – something photographed and flattened, infinitely reproducible – we see the laborious cutouts.

Some of the most engaging moments in Rattke’s work come from text notes. In Refuge (After Manuel Felguérez), a blobby figure leans beneath an angular cast concrete sculpture in a desert landscape. Framing the composition are strips of paper that bear the name and addresses of a company called ‘Tecnocreto’, its product: ‘aditivos para concreto’ which boast ‘fillers without shrinkage’. Elsewhere in Novocreto, a block of magenta, vermilion, and off-white text appears to be ad text for building materials (probably more concrete). This is a show on the built environment which is also made of the elements that make up this built environment. As a ring road, it’s satisfyingly circular.

Vertical collage with angular sculpture in the center, beige, magenta and blue tints.
Gwenaël Rattke, ‘Refuge (after Manuel Felguerez),’ 2022; silkscreen, gouache and collage on cardboard with artist’s frame. (Courtesy of the artist and Romer Young)

In Mexico City, monumental abstract sculptures dot the landscape like things meant to be seen only from cars. But linger long enough on Romer Young watching Rattke’s work and co-director Joey Piziali will tell you how the artist convinced a cab to drop him off at a sculpture’s traffic island. He remained there for hours, surrounded by lanes of speeding cars, in strange communion with a work far beyond the human scale.

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