first published in As It Ought To Be, January 8, 2012

Partial installation of Images in Dialogue: Andrew Schoultz and Paul Klee. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.


by Matt Gonzalez

Today closes an important exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) pairing two artists, born roughly one hundred years apart. Artists Andrew Schoultz and Paul Klee exhibit side-by-side in the second floor gallery normally reserved exclusively for works by Klee from the Carl Djerassi Collection, in the exhibition Images in Dialogue: Andrew Schoultz and Paul Klee.

Three Crying Horses (acrylic and ink on paper) by Andrew Schoultz, 2011. Photograph by Marx & Zavattero.

Curated by John Zarobell, who until recently was an assistant curator of collections, exhibitions, and commissions at SFMOMA, the exhibition has been an opportunity to reengage with Klee works on view by the San Francisco public over the years, with the intent to present them in a new light, through the juxtaposition with contemporary artist Andrew Schoultz. Both artists’ works contain strong narrative elements, though nondescript to the extent that they invite viewers to imagine their own storylines; so the pairing offers a chance to see the effect each has on the other.

Swiss-German Paul Klee (1879-1940) is a renowned artist within the early 20th century expressionist group The Blue Rider. Painter, draughtsman, and printmaker (working with etching, drypoint, and lithography), Klee taught at the Bauhaus, lecturing on ideas about color and abstraction.

Old Man Reckoning by Paul Klee, 1929. Photograph SFMOMA.

Andrew Schoultz (1975-) is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who has resided in San Francisco, California, for over a decade. He is an internationally-known artist, well-known in contemporary circles, whose work is rooted in political concerns. Lauded for its versatility, his work ranges from large murals (most recently at Art Basel Miami) to smaller pieces, highlighting Schoultz’s tendency toward fine detail and adroit use of ink, acrylic, and collage.

Untitled (Telephone Poles) (acrylic and ink on paper) by Andrew Schoultz, 2011.

John Zarobell, Assistant Professor and Department Chair of European Studies at the University of San Francisco, conceptualized the show. Under Zarobell’s direction, Schoultz viewed the entire Klee collection in the SFMOMA’s holdings, approximately 100 pieces, and selected twenty that particularly moved him and which he felt could inspire new works. Zarobell subsequently selected nine of the new Schoultz drawings he believed worked best in concert between the two artists, and presents them in conjunction with Schoultz’s gallery, Marx & Zavaretto, in the Djerassi Gallery.

It should first be noted that the comparisons are not literal. Schoultz did not attempt to render what Klee had already done. Rather he uses Klee’s pieces to explore his own oeuvre of images and allows them to be obliquely informed or influenced by Klee.

To be sure, the exhibit is not a conversation between artists either, as Klee cannot respond to Schoultz’s work, but it does present a re-invigoration of the Klee collection and encourages Schoultz to go in directions he might not have otherwise. Zarobell stands in for Klee, as an editor having selected nine of the fifteen works Schoultz made during this project, and in that way, while it’s not Klee himself, the artist does have an indirect say in the pairings. Ultimately, the works themselves must be the focal point.

Detail of Dark Horse Apocalypse by Andrew Schoultz, 2011. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.

Klee is primarily known for the pictorial symbolism he used in his small, idiosyncratic, and playful works. He lived during one of the most tumultuous periods in Germany, yet always seemed somewhat distanced from and aloof to surrounding political circumstances. He did participate briefly in a revolutionary art council during the fleeting German communist government of 1918, but otherwise his political activism is not generally highlighted. Even his inclusion in the famed Nazi degenerate art show of 1937, while he lived in exile, seems more a product of his adherence to modernist aesthetics than it did to any narratives professing political allegiances or ideals.

In parallel, Klee’s work reads more political standing next to Schoultz. Rather than just the playful little drawing of marionettes we are accustomed to expect, one sees an artist informed by an apocalyptic image of the world and its future. Schoultz’s adjacency enlivens Klee’s political statement, by contextualizing it among Schoultz’s more visually powerful artworks which project turmoil and chaos. Now the subtle unfinished structure with ladders seems a remnant of battle or destruction of some kind. What would have otherwise simply been a device in which to place figures, even a whimsical one, is understood by the clear messages of upheaval that Schoutz’s own work more directly conveys.

Installation photo of works by Paul Klee and Andrew Schoultz. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.

Juggler in April by Paul Klee, 1928. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.

Detail of Broken Bridge by Andrew Schoutz, 2011. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.

Andrew Schoultz’s work, on the other hand, paints a world nearly always devoid of people. Riderless war horses, carrying banners, run amidst flying arrows. Tornados and whirlwinds throw bits of money around as if it were confetti. An all-seeing eye, the Eye of Providence, is now rendered as a seer ominously letting you know that your actions are chronicled, and become historic. Broken bridges and barren telephone poles suggest an environment that is desolate and wasted, setting the stage for a post-apocalyptic moment.

Unlike Klee, Schoultz has always been seriously engaged politically, living the life of someone who comes from and chronicles the challenges of the American experience in the last quarter of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. From the recent economic collapse to the death of industrial cities and the loss of jobs, Schoultz’s adult life has witnessed a nearly constant presence of undeclared American wars on various continents and growing corporate greed that has endangered human beings and the environment. His work, often masked by bright festive colors, warns of, if not directly predicts, the coming desolation.

Large Beast by Paul Klee, 1928 and Three Caged Beasts by Andrew Schoultz, 2011.

Detail of Large Beast by Paul Klee, 1928. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.

Three Caged Beasts (acrylic and ink on paper) by Andrew Schoultz, 2011.

As a result of the pairing with Klee, Schoultz’s work takes on a clearer narrative quality and broadens the historic prospective of his work. Schoultz often cites the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493) as an influence. The Chronicle was an early book that paired typography with hundreds of images retelling the story of the world, contextualized in part by the Bible. Schoultz’s canvas generally seems to be a chronicle of the future. Part warning, part prediction, that globalization will render the world people-less, although also hinting toward some future existence where Nature may persevere.

Mostly, Klee’s work has the effect of emphasizing the cyclical nature of Schoultz’s historical chronicle. Rather than give off solely a future impression, standing next to the older images, particularly the yellowing of Klee’s paper, reveals that Schoultz’s work is not just one forecasting our future, but one that has been repeated throughout history. Embedded in these images is a narrative opposed to war and Wall Street greed. But now it isn’t limited to late 20th century globalization. With Klee along-side his work, Schultz’s chronicle now begins at a much earlier moment in history and is as much about the past as it is the future.

Detail of Cloud City (acrylic and ink on paper) by Andrew Schoultz, 2011. Flickr photograph by My Love For You.

Klee, whose playful images abound, also strengthens an alternative reading of Schoultz’s work, allowing it to convey less desolation. There is a “look here” quality, as the viewer enjoys finding some occurrence: dancing tigers, or even horses in a kind of funnel of energy that might otherwise intuit more ominous. Something about sharing space with Klee allows war horses to be reinterpreted as horses on a carousel; the broken bridge to be an invitation to work or build something anew without necessarily revealing what caused the devastation. Also, the absence of humans depicted in Schoultz’s work is now populated by Klee’s people, who can easily walk, in this small gallery, from one canvas to another. Klee, it can be said, emphasizes Schoultz’s playfulness, which is doubtless already present in the work.

Ultimately, this pairing works, not because of a conversation between artists or because of commentary by one artist, but because the viewer sees each artist anew. The show is a way for Schoultz to showcase his vision, and when juxtaposed against Klee’s, the world he paints comes into focus and the breadth of his chronicle becomes apparent.

Just as the SFMOMA show reaches its end, Schoultz has embarked on his next public project “the Boneyard Project” organized by Eric Firestone in Tucson, Arizona. A select number of artists, Schoultz included, are currently painting airplanes and exploring their cultural significance while applying their graffiti and mural practice to this uncommon canvas. The show opens at the Pima Air & Space Museum on January 28, 2012. Specifically, Schoultz’s assignment is to paint an old spy plane. Coincidentally, Klee too once painted war planes during World War I. He camouflaged them.

Images in Dialogue: Andrew Schoultz and Paul Klee, curated by John Zarobell. Exhibition runs: August 13, 2011 to January 8, 2012. SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA.

NOTE: Curator John Zarobell says that the idea to pair Klee’s work with a contemporary artist is not an original idea: “Six years ago, then-Curatorial Associate Tara McDowell worked with Simon Evans, who selected a show of Klee works from our holdings and added a piece of his own. In 2007 Apsara DiQuinzio paired drawings by Klee with those of Devendra Banhart, who had a long-standing fascination with the modern artist.”

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