One of the current ringleaders in the irony department is Michael Krebber, the Cologne-born and-based 52-year-old who studied with German neo-expressionist artist-as-dandy Marcus Lupertz and who was an assistant to both Georg Baselitz and to that super-imp of the perverse, the late Martin Kippenberger. His work also relates to Sigmar Polke, Daniel Buren, Rosemarie Trockel, Blinky Palermo, and James Lee Byars, making Krebber’s street cred all but bulletproof.

German writer Helmut Draxler wittily calls Krebber a “dandy,” meaning, I think, that Krebber makes aestheticism a position without celebrating or condemning it; he performs attributes of mastery and touch while turning these qualities back on themselves. Way back in 1990, artist Jutta Koether presciently labeled Krebber a “veteran naysayer.” Today he’s a role model. Krebber himself has said, “I’ve never had any method except not having a method.”

Krebber’s show of fourteen smallish works, all essentially abstract, mostly watercolors, pencil drawings, felt marker on paper, and a couple of mesmerizing spray-paint-through-peg-board canvases, is breathtaking for the ways it gets you to partake in this come-hither step-back dance. His art can look pretentious and precious or like Richard Tuttle’s, yet Krebber never turns pedantic or gets cagey in anti-art ways.

This is because Krebber uses irony almost like a material, the way Warhol used irony and celebrity as a material. Even though Krebber’s relentless reticence can become irksome and individual works can look like that of Luc Tuymans, Polke, and Kippenberger, the empty rear gallery is an object lesson for all young artists worried about playing too willingly into the market. Here, by letting this space lie fallow, Krebber essentially announces, “Artists should use galleries the way they want; not the way the system says you should.”

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