Gabriel Vormstein at moniquemeloche | Art review

Vormstein embraces impermanence in watercolors on newspaper.
Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and moniquemeloche Gabriel Vormstein, Villas Ecto, 2012.
By Franck Mercurio |

Some of Gabriel Vormstein’s art won’t stand the test of time—and he’s okay with that. The German artist usually paints in watercolor on newspaper, a medium that’s designed to be read one day and thrown out the next.

Painting on cheap printed paper is nothing new. Sixty years ago, Franz Kline painted on pages ripped from the New York telephone directory. But Kline was making studies for larger, more permanent pieces, while Vormstein, 38, embraces the ephemeral qualities of his medium. “The newspaper will get brittle,” he e-mailed gallery staff, “and so with time becomes visible as a ‘color’ in the work.”

Vormstein’s lone human figures are silhouetted against stark white backgrounds that barely conceal the newsprint underneath. In Villas Ecto (2012), he masterfully renders a Clara Bow–like woman in blues and blacks. The artist’s soak-stain watercolor technique, which spreads his paint into fine tendrils, reinforces the impression that his subject is a ghost from the past rather than flesh and blood.

Vormstein also shows sculptural “pulp paintings,” made from a mixture of ground-up paper, plastic and seeds spread onto canvases. They come off as clunkier and less sophisticated than the newspaper works.

The Berlin-based artist’s site-specific “on the wall” installation is a more successful experiment. Visible from Division Street through the gallery’s large glass windows, Melt (2013) stretching 29' by 7.5', fills an entire gallery wall with torn and painted newspaper. Its gray and white palette evokes the icy—and melting—cityscape outside. Melt is a fitting monument to Vormstein’s fascination with temporality.