Must See 2022 Exhibition: Tauba Auerbach’s ‘S v Z’ at SFMOMA

It seems fitting that Tauba Auerbach‘s first major museum exhibition comes at a time when science itself is literally under attack in America. Indeed, during the most lethal pandemic of our lifetime, when not getting vaccinated has become a political rallying cry and people have come to actual blows over having to wear personal protective equipment, it is reasonable to ask how many of the 850,000 Americans who have died as a result of the various waves of coronavirus would still be with us if their fellow citizens had only followed CDC-approved safety guidelines.

The San Francisco raised Auerbach has spent the last 17 years helping us to view science in a different, perhaps more ethereal way. A painter by essence, she has taken her fascination with mathematics, physics and logic, and created work that often allowed us to see beyond the pure rationality of it all, and discover otherwise unseen profundities. She has naturally and organically evolved into a multimedia artist in the truest sense, regularly employing current technologies, even including 3-D printing.

SFMOMA‘s comprehensive Tauba Auerbach — S v Z gathers more than a decade and a half of her explorations of the meaning of form as examined via the aforementioned sciences. That the “S” and “V” of the title represent the strands of the helix is immediately edifying, then.

The sheer range of her work conveys the scope of her inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity. For Folds (2009-2013) for instance, she twisted and folded the canvas before applying the paint, creating a startling trompe l’oeil effect that simulates three-dimensionality; for her ongoing series Grain (2017-), she devised original tools that were dragged through layers of color, resulting in unexpected patterns that seem to refer back to science and nature in the most uncommon of ways; and her astonishing Auerglass Organ (2009), a thought-provoking collab with musician Cameron Mesirow, is an imposing tandem organ that appears almost prehistoric in its visually striking form. Live performances on the latter will be carried on throughout the run of the exhibition.

“Auerbach moves fluidly across disciplines and interests,” observes SFMOMA associate curator of
architecture and design Joseph Becker. “From developing tools and methodologies for their paintings and sculptures which play upon our perceptions of space and time, to probing semiotics and design with their work in typography and architectural ornament.”

Of course, our perceptions of space and time have been acutely challenged by the last twenty-one months of lockdowns, quarantines and on-and-off periods of isolation. So what better time to ponder Auerbach’s perspective-shifting oeuvre, in the hopes of perhaps achieving some sense of reconciliation?

Jenny Gheith, SFMOMA associate curator of painting and sculpture, perhaps sums it up best.

“Auerbach is one of those rare artists who has the ability to open numerous worlds at once by connecting an exploration of the symbolic capacity of geometric form to concepts and fields that expand our understanding of nature, our anatomy and consciousness.”

Tauba Auerbach — S v Z will be on exhibit at SFMOMA through May 1, 2022.

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