Paul Laffoley, The Orgone Motor, 1981, oil, acrylic, vinyl lettering on canvas, 73 1/2 x 73 1/2”.
The term post-critical has been thrown around in recent years to describe the ideals of hybridity and inclusivity governing much contemporary art. In this context, the exclusive category of “outsider artist” appears antiquated and counterproductive. Reflecting on this contemporary scenario, curators Udo Kittelmann and Claudia Dichter initiated a project space in Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof dedicated to artists who have been largely excluded from the mainstream art world. In the second exhibition in their program, titled “Secret Universe II,” the forty-year career of the Boston-based artist and architect Paul Laffoley is granted reassessment. Featuring over thirty paintings and prints comprising dense interplays between philosophical texts, mystical diagrams, and historical references, Laffoley’s superb draftsmanship frames his paranoid and hyperactive assessments of how history interacts with and constructs the future.
Combining a Conceptualist sensibility with New Age illustration techniques, Laffoley’s works reveal his engrossment in the alternative realities and lifestyles synonymous with the counterculture of the 1960s. His paintings evoke a Philip K. Dick–esque world where history, psychosis, and science fiction come together in ways that are simultaneously thought-provoking, entertaining, and, frankly, weird. Aligning his artistic practice with historical figures from R. Buckminster Fuller to Heraclitus, Laffoley gives an architectural schema to speculative notions and mysterious historical forms, tackling subjects as diverse as kabbalah, the shroud of Turin, quantum theory, cosmogenesis, the work of Wilhelm Reich, and the philosophy of Lucretius. His unconventional theories are delicately spelled out with adhesive lettering on the surfaces of his paintings, conveying his esoteric beliefs and giving the exhibition its legibly driven character. Yet the innovative pictorial arrangements of works such as The Orgone Motor, 1981, and The Eloptic Nohmagraphon, 1989, are often more captivating than the theories themselves. The exhibition provides an engaging introduction to Laffoley’s fascinating career, and exemplifies the move in contemporary art to abolish “outsider” status.— Wes Hill