Maximum minimalism by Robert L. Pincus (Printed February 18th, 2010 San Diego Union Tribune)

Maximum minimalism: Icelandic artist Gudmundsson’s striking works at Quint By Robert L. Pincus, UNION-TRIBUNE ART CRITIC / BOOKS EDITOR Thursday, February 18, 2010

Maximum minimalism: Icelandic artist Gudmundsson’s striking works at Quint, his first solo exhibition, are striking

By Robert L. Pincus, UNION-TRIBUNE ART CRITIC / BOOKS EDITOR

“I am trying to work within the field of tension that exists between nothing and something.”

— Kristjan Gudmundsson

Perhaps you have never asked yourself: Is there a sophisticated art scene in Iceland? And it would be understandable if you didn’t think there was, since its population is small and it’s remote from art centers like New York or Berlin.

The answer, though, is yes — and, in fact, Kristjan Gudmundsson, a leading Icelandic artist, has exhibited in Berlin, among other places. But it’s unlikely he would have exhibited in San Diego, if not for the interest that Mark Quint has taken in some of the work being made there.

Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla exhibited a selection of Icelandic art in 2008, Gudmundsson’s works among them. This was the first time he had exhibited in the United States and his new show, “Paintings in Gray and White Frames,” is his first solo exhibition in this country.

Definitions of minimalist art — and Gudmundsson’s fits that description — all talk about spareness, austerity, simplicity and repetition of form. But they leave out a couple of things that are basic to his art: wit and humor.

Conceptual, too: He showed an elegant work consisting of immense rolls of paper and a block of graphite and called it a drawing. Other drawings used pencil leads as lines. Think of them as creations that draw attention to the nature of art and our assumptions about what it should be — so they are conceptual as much minimalist.

Gudmundsson, circa 2010: His new works remind us that simplicity is no obstacle to ingenious variety, since they are quite different from those seen at Quint in 2008. The basic premise of them is this: There are painted canvasses in black or white. Each is encased in a frame, more like a case, made to fit precisely. They all have a precise pattern of holes, resembling a screen, that extends across the front of the painting. The holes are sometimes large and some small. And, these frames, in white. gray or black, are made of a material usually reserved for muting sound in rooms.

Something happens: You might think that eight works of this kind would become repetitious. But that’s not the way it plays out. It’s all handsomely hypnotic, strikingly different to the eye than in photographs. And, just in case you miss it: All those dot patterns conjure up references to pointillist painting like Georges Seurat’s and even Op Art. The frames soften sound in the galleries, by the way, which seems to be wry take on the notion of appreciating art in silence.

In their unassuming way, Gudmundsson’s new works really do amount to something.

Robert L. Pincus: (619) 293-1831; robert.pincus@uniontrib.com twitter.com/rlpincus