By Anders Kold for Sofie Bird Møller

American Abstract Expressionism – known as Ab-Ex in institutional lingo – undoubtedly has
the status of the most fêted (in its own time) and most despised (later) of the post-war idioms.
So much so, in fact, that even after half a century you can still get away with speaking
critically of it, just as painting’s own practice and theory have by and large demonstratively
adopted this same scepticism and resistance to the expressive as norm. In other words we
don’t get an eyeful when it comes to painting, we get something in our eye. Sofie Bird
Møller’s works seem, not surprisingly, both to perpetuate and presuppose this gesture –
how, one might almost ask, could it be otherwise? So, ab-Ex here, because in German the
preposition suggests distance, reservations and motion away from something.
However, lusciousness is also a concept that can be meaningfully applied to aspects of the
artist’s practice; or ‘relish’ – to hint at the element of digestion and the intimate sphere that
is also emphasized by the physical and often directly bodily performance of the works. Also
when things are carved and scraped away. That is what you so unusually get an eyeful of,
and what can re-open the issue in earnest. But this is where all bets are off, in a way, because
such an approach – if it involves anything more than sleight of hand – has no place in the
great department store catalogue of conceptual art. For the overpaintings – and here I am
generalizing crudely about the oeuvre – may well be exhibited as a group, but they have
never, as advertising and conceptual art strictly speaking do, had to demonstrate or honour
a particular methodological approach. They are ultimately singular and irreversible, which
makes any other, overarching categorization difficult. Practice dictates that if they do not
work – formally speaking – they will never achieve the status of works. We stand before an
artist where, if we insist on some principle of clarity, we sacrifice in the same instant the
depth-definition of our observation and thus of the works.
It’s obvious that works relate very rigorously to the premise that they never take form on
the white square. Their formal qualities always unfold qua and on the surface of something
existing – indeed they are to a quite special degree superficial. Nor is any particular mystique
associated with the origin of the individual stroke, and I believe this expression – with
brush, broom or body – would be the same if it was applied to pictures with a pornographic,
technical or botanical starting point. In that respect, after all, they stand somewhere on the
shoulders of the artistic practice of the 1960s, where “the artist may construct her work” and
“the work may be fabricated” (Lawrence Wiener, 1969). But is it then a fundamental syntactic
problem that the works at the same time appear almost frivolous in their extravagance?
Only if their raison d’être depends on their capacity to de-auratize or de-odorize painting,
bearing in mind the link with the luxuriant and material excess. And I don’t think you
have to penetrate far into the material to establish that the works are not feministically
motivated either – despite confrontations, overpaintings, erasures, rewritings and possible
Bird Møller’s sense of the superficial is far more radical in the light of the dichotomies that
underlie most of what is thought and said about contemporary painting. How one institutionally
places this unruly capacity for losing the plot is less crucial in this context. At the
same time I permit myself to think that the fixing of the viewer’s attention between this
invisibility and pointed materiality is the essential property of the works.