Avery Singer (b. 1987, lives and works in New York) is known for her monochromatic airbrush paintings that manage to simultaneously raise philosophical questions and poke fun at the clichés of contemporary art. Her most recent show, “Pictures Punish Words” at the Kunsthalle Zürich, which will soon travel to the Foundazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy. In this web exclusive interview, Singer talks about her new show and the role language, color, technology, and humor play in her practice.
LEAP Your most recent show, “Pictures Punish Words” at the Kunsthalle Zürich, is your largest exhibition in terms of physical space. How does this monumentality affect the spaces (both actual and imaginary) created in your work?
AVERY SINGER I don’t know. Every time the work leaves the studio I stop trying to judge what it does or might achieve. It’s the point when I hand it over to the viewer.
LEAP What is the relationship between the verbal and the visual in this exhibition, as well as your practice in general?
AVERY SINGER The title is meant to point to a feeling that we’re mired in cultural and linguistic chaos, which appears both innocuous and subversive.
LEAP Where does language come into play when shapes are reduced to stylized geometrical forms?
AVERY SINGER I hold the view that art begins when language takes a holiday.
LEAP Can you talk a little about your resistance against using color in your work? Beyond art historical references such as grisaille, photography and film, and print culture, is there a more abstract, perhaps formal, reason for using only black, white, and gray?
AVERY SINGER Black and white is the clearest way for me to portray illusionistic space. I also feel that I don’t have a propensity for color, and making “good” or “bad” color decisions feels like a waste of my time.
LEAP Is this the first time you have treated your paintings as physical objects and removed them from the walls to create an installation? Does this remove the trompe-l’oeil effect in your work? Since the viewer is physically able to physically walk behind these paintings, as opposed to visually entering the space “behind” the painting, how do you envision the viewer’s role?
AVERY SINGER No, I also hung them free-floating in the room in a group show I participated in called “Speculations on Anonymous Materials” at the Fridericianum in Kassel. I want to show the viewer that what they’re looking at isn’t some kind of rarefied allegorical image, but the “flattened covering of a purely cultural object” (I read this phrase somewhere as a description of painting—but I forget where).
LEAP Digital image making is still a crucial part of your practice—how do ideas of machine vision or graphic rendering affect your final paintings?
AVERY SINGER It’s just a tool. It’s something that I realized hadn’t entered painting yet, so I saw it potentially as a mode of invention in the field of painting—which sees very little innovation.
LEAP Finally, can you talk about the role humor and irony play in your work?
AVERY SINGER Isn’t China now banning puns in fear of political unrest? For me, humor and irony show a complete view and understanding of a subject. If you can publicly mock yourself, you can be your own worst critic. It’s also fun—laughter is important.
Avery Singer: “Pictures Punish Words” is at the Kunsthalle Zürich until January 25, 2015, and will be at the Foundazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy, from February 12- April 12, 2015.