The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Dóra Maurer

‘6 out of 5’, White Cube, Mason's Yard, London

24 May – 9 July 2016

A review by Neil Zakiewicz

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

Installation shot, © the artist and White Cube

This exhibition of Dóra Maurer at White Cube follows the inclusion of her photographic work Seven Rotations, 1979, at the Whitechapel Gallery last year, which appears again here. The work serves both as a self-portrait and documentation of a performance act, where she holds a square of photographic paper up for a camera, her eyes peering from behind, to record the moment. This action is repeated six times, with each subsequent photograph appearing in succession in the middle of the paper, creating the effect of an infinity mirror. The mesmeric turning of the paper encapsulates her interest in illusion, humour and self-reflexiveness, characteristics of all her works.


That this Budapest-based artist, best known for her work from the 1970s, appears at White Cube in 2016 in London evinces a Zeitgeisty urge to explore and re-appraise such seminal works, most prominently by the Tate's current exhibition Performing for the Camera. A cynic might argue that this hankering after analogue media is led by nostalgic tastes for technology that is unfit for purpose in our contemporary sped-up and instantly-gratified existences.  It's true that photographic film media seems exotically retro these days, yet this exhibition evades being wholly backward-looking with the inclusion of Maurer's very latest works.

The first impression of Maurer's serially-produced work is that of linearity and taxonomy, but it soon becomes apparent that these are not hermetic, self-explanatory systems. In comparison to the process-led art of some of her contemporaries (consider, amongst others, Morgan Fisher, Michael Craig-Martin and John Hilliard), her work is much less conclusive. For instance, why in Seven Rotations does she stop at seven? If the choice is not arbitrary could it be for reasons of composition? Or perhaps she simply ran out of film? These insoluble questions may frustrate purists of process art, but they add narrative intrigue.

Dóra Maurer Seven Rotations, silver gelatin print 1979

( R ) Reversible and Changeable Phases of Movements 4, 1972, silver prints on board 100cm x 100cm. © the artist and White Cube

Other photographic works on display at White Cube are her Reversible and Changeable Phases of Movements (1, 4 and 6 in the series), 1972, a series of photographic prints framed in a grid format showing repetitive actions, such as hands catching a ball, accompanied by a hand-written key to the system of arrangement of the photos in sequence. Maurer clearly borrows from the scientific chronophotographic modes of Étienne-Jules Marey or Eadweard Muybridge, yet as scientific demonstrations these would be farcically deficient and ambiguous. It is unclear whether the ball in any of the pictures is being  thrown or caught; the repetitious sequence can be 'read' in either direction and we are subjected to a feedback loop. In this respect, they are reminiscent of Bruce Nauman's obsessively repetitious videos and sound works (albeit a less hysterical version), that are as much to do with altered states of mind as with well-observed rules.  

Hidden Structures 1-6 (detail)1977-80, frottage on paper. Six parts, each 50cm x 65cm. Installed: 58.5 x 491 x 1.8 cm.

The Hidden Structures series of the late 1970s are recursive frottage works, where Maurer makes multiple folds in sheets of paper, all 50 x 65cm, and diligently rubs the lead of a pencil up to the edges of the paper, to record the underlying impressions of the folds and the material qualities of the sheet. The title is instructive, in the sense that the rubbings reveal ghostly shapes that are echoed by the finely ribbed texture of the paper. The rectilinear and triangular shapes resemble works of geometric abstraction that have appeared by x-ray. Unearthed, rather than imposed. This uncalculated approach is like a pared-down reinvention of the Surrealist folding game Exquisite Corpse, beloved of Man Ray and Juan Miró.

(L) Overlappings 33 2006, Acrylic on canvas and wood with graphite wall drawing, 106 x 203 cm.  © the artist and White Cube

Besides the early works, this exhibition is dominated by a series of 14 Overlappings paintings on cut-out wood panels, dated variously between 1999 and 2016, that deal with illusions of perspective and transparency effects. They each incorporate overlaid colours, that look like curved transparency gels floating in space. This idea of no gravity or border seems important, as they eschew traditional compositional concerns with the edge of the canvas, and appear to project out into the space of the viewer, as architectural interventions. In Overlappings 33, 2007, the perspectival lines are added in graphite onto the wall next to the painting, as though the painting is spilling out into the room. They manage to combine the dynamism of perspectival shapes with a coolly empiricist approach to colour and form. The flat layering of paint onto the panels, and the accurate merging of the coloured planes, are executed with the detached lucidity of a graphic illustration, with no concession to emotive responses to colour. Maurer, instead of trying to reinvent the old tricks of perspective and colour mixing, is serving it to us straight. It's like an art school lesson, but what is the thesis? As with her earlier fake-scientific photographic series, there is no meaning to be grasped. These are the results of a painter with Minimalist tendencies unexpectedly practising linear perspective; a curious mix which shows that Maurer is still unwilling to play by the rules.

Installation shot, © the artist and White Cube

‘6 out of 5’ is at White Cube, Mason's Yard, London until 9 July 2016