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New York Times

Art Review
p.E39
May 28th, 2004
Pia Fries – ‘MurGang’

By KEN JOHNSON

Using palette knives, squeegees and extruding tools that she makes herself, Pia Fries loads paint in massive quantities onto snowy white panels, creating viscerally attractive topographies of striated swathes, rippling ribbons, melting puddles and bristly thickets of brush strokes. The paint itself seems to have absorbed the playful spirit of the artist and taken on a comically agitated life of its own. Call it abstract animism. 

Closer examination reveals, however, another, less satisfying dimension. The Swiss-born artist, based in Düsseldorf, Germany, was once a student of Gerhard Richter. She begins most pictures by silkscreening photographs of parts of earlier paintings onto the white panels or, lately, unpainted plywood surfaces.

Layering actual paint on top of photographed paint sets up dialogues between the mediated and the unmediated, the mechanical and the hand-made, and similarly opposed states.

At a time when the world seems to be increasingly filled with machine-made forms of representation, this is conceptually relevant, if not revelatory. The problem is that applying paint to photographs and other sorts of printed material — like the antique botanical illustrations that Ms. Fries has used in some paintings — hardly ever works very well visually: the photographic parts inevitably look distractingly bland.

Given her inventiveness as a painter, one would think Ms. Fries could find a way to address her philosophical concerns in more convincingly painterly terms.