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“Heaven is a Place on Earth,” conceptual artist Jacob Dahlgren’s first one-person show in the United States, will open at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, Thursday, March 1, and run through April 21. Dahlgren, who will represent Sweden in the Nordic Pavillion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, makes objects that appear to be in the modernist art tradition: stripe paintings, checkerboard floor sculptures and wall constructions that evoke the geometric explorations of the Bauhaus and the Russian constructivists. But in each case “mass production, randomness and play take precedence over the highbrow views of modernism,” writes Stina Hogkvist in a 2004 essay. The resulting work, however, is neither cynical nor dystopian but evokes laughter, embraces the living world and is free of the pretense and stern pedagogy associated with such masters of modernism as Walter Gropius, Clyfford Still and Josef Albers. Some examples: “I , The World, Things, Life,” a vast wall construction of dartboards hung cheek to jowl, was made for the Norkopingskonstmuseum in 2004. A crate full of darts was placed in the center of the floor with no printed prohibitions. Viewers were allowed to contribute to the work, juxtaposing the randomness of the darts with the precise geometry of the targets. “Krakow,” an undulating wall sculpture in crisp alternating pop colors from 2002, is upon close inspection stacks and stacks of plastic yogurt containers. The humorous connection of abstraction, process and material to place, memory and consumption recalls the best work of Tom Friedman. Dahlgren’s many stripe or line paintings as he calls them are also deceptively strategized. Unlike the work of artists like Gene Davis and Agnes Martin, who explored the poetry of ideal geometries and mark-making, Dahlgren’s many variations on the stripe are all simply based on tee shirts from his 400-plus collection. The position of Dahlgren’s work vis a vis the modernist tradition is occasionally itself the subject as in the 2003 sculpture “Headmaster,” in which the artist has spelled out the Russian artist/theorist Kasimir Malevich’s last name using stacks of candycolored foam. At his most fluid and witty, Dahlgren reunites art history and the big box store for which his country is now perhaps best known like Shakespearean twins separated at birth. “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” a 9 x 9 foot floor sculpture made from different-colored Ikea bathroom scales, takes the theoretical minimalism of Carl Andre and joins it with the light-hearted retail pop design. It’s a weightless meditation on mass, volume and disappearance and creates a wry parallel of art on a diet and a culture obsessed with its own weight. Dahlgren will also talk about his work at Timken Hall in the California College of Art on February 28, 7 pm, as part of an ongoing series curated by Stephanie Syjuco titled Object Agents: Contemporary Sculpture and the Social Life of Objects.

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