Related Speaker Series: An Artist on the Magic of Abstraction

At the ZieherSmith gallery in High Line Nine, acclaimed artist, illustrator and author Christoph Niemann – whose work appears regularly on the covers of The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine – showcased his new exhibition and publication "Hopes and Dreams."

Inspired by his trip to L.A. last year to meet David Hockney – one of Niemann's heroes – "Hopes and Dreams" is a compilation of “visual and verbal language.” Niemann characterized the trip as five days “of walking and waiting,” during which time he sourced the inspiration for his latest intimate and beautiful body of work. But the artist maintains that the work he finds most compelling is the work that doesn’t tell you everything. 


The theme of Niemann's talk is his favorite tool as an artist: Abstraction. “It’s like playing with a glass of water on the table,” Niemann says. “If it falls off the edge, it’s gone too far. If it’s sitting in the middle of the table, it’s completely boring.” Give away too much information, and for him it’s too safe. But take away too much, and the message gets lost.

The Goal Is Not Perfection

The journey, for Niemann, is not towards perfection. As a self-proclaimed “big believer in practice,” he thinks it’s just as important to plan for failure as it is to plan for success. “Sometimes I consciously say to myself when I’m making a drawing, ‘I’m going to ruin this one.’ I have to kill it and not be afraid of it. To be an artist, you have to be careful and open on the one hand. But on the other you have to race a car towards a wall, and not be afraid of what’s going to happen when you hit it. And I think right now that doesn’t happen enough.”

During the intimate reception, guests, admirers, and curators alike flocked around Niemann to pick his brain. "Were any of these drawn in cars?" (No, flat surfaces only. But the drawing needs to happen “very, very quickly” after the event.) "Do you ever go too far in drawings?" (Yes, he says, of course. “One of the big challenges when you draw is that there’s no Control Z.”), "What was it about California that inspired you? "(That it has such a glare to it, a special character and light.)

And the absence of information in his work allowed the viewer to put themselves in it, to imagine themselves there. Which, of course, is Niemann's ultimate goal. “For me, the biggest realization - the reason I love what I do - is that the limitations of art aren’t really limitations at all.”

Christoph Niemann: Hopes and Dreams, is on view in ZieherSmith gallery at High Line Nine (through December 21).

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