Torben Giehler is jittery, uneasy. It's the opening of his fifth solo exhibition (through June 18) and Leo Koenig is crowded with Chelsea regulars: hip moms with SUV strollers, disheveled Europeans wearing scrunched up blazers, and gallery-hopping Brooklynites here for the free beer. In a 2005 New Yorker piece, Nick Paumgartner refers to Giehler as "a red-faced German whose shyness might be mistaken for hostility." But tonight, the artist makes an attempt to explain his work to me. It's hard, this selling of the self, and Giehler is admirably terrible at it.
The exhibition is inspired by and titled after Tool's 2001 prog-metal opus Lateralus, whose irregular time signatures are based on the Fibonacci sequence, in which numbers are added to their preceding terms, spiraling all the way to infinity. Giehler's abstract geometric paintings echo this concept by using repetitive arrangements of structured, linear forms, though he chose to create his own model rather than explicitly follow the mathematical sequence. "It's part of the process," he explains. "These all are based on this grid that I started with and they become sculptural, and created space." His paintings are taped off, with clean, triangulated shapes and glossy finishes. In "Wings for Marie," for instance, straight white, grey, and chartreuse lines connect ghostly lines underneath the surface, creating 3D gnomonic forms; it's architectonic, harmonious, and also quite beautiful.
Geometric art dates back to at least the Greeks, but the compositional principles found in Giehler's work can be traced to Piet Mondrian and his De Stijl contemporaries, with their use of simple geometric lines and primary colors. However, there's an unfinished quality to Giehler's work—a stray drip here, a thin brushstroke revealing the white of the canvas beneath the careful layers there. This creates a space for vulnerability in the paintings, which is also present in the album Lateralus. Both Tool and Giehler have attempted to produce objects of beautiful precision in spite of the limitations of their respective forms, though Giehler's work happily lacks the histrionics that can make the record particularly appealing to the adolescent set.
A few minutes into our interview an old man trundles over to Giehler and grabs his shoulder. The man's free hand makes wide circles in the air as he says in broken English, "I'm from Europe. I write about this." He then points to his head, saying, "It's…" His hand releases, making a gesture of an explosion. His mind is blown. Giehler nods politely, his icy blue eyes surveying the room. That was the point.
(Images courtesy the artist, Leo Koenig, Inc.)