Bill Bollinger

December 2011

Publication: The Times

5 Article from The Times







Bill Bollinger

The Fruitmarket Gallery


Until January 8


The American artist, Bill Bollinger, who died in 1988 at the age of 49, originally trained as an aeronautical engineer before turning to art in his early twenties. The way in which Bollinger uses materials is indicative of his former experience and he is often quoted as saying “I only do what it is necessary to do. There is no reason to use colour, to polish, to bend, to weld, if it is not necessary to do so.”


Bollinger could be described as a ‘minimalist’ or even a ‘minimal-interventionist’ but such labels do not serve to adequately describe his approach. As Bollinger’s own words suggest he is not interested in materials for their own sake but for what they can be used for in the service of his ideas.


In one work a connected series of thick plastic tubes have been filled with water and set against the gallery wall. It seems like a bald statement, like much of Bollinger’s work – a challenge set out for the viewer to pick apart, interpret and engage with. The rawness of the material seems like a statement in itself. But what is the work telling us? Or what does Bollinger wish to convey? The fact that water finds its own level is certainly one important element here. Bollinger clearly designed the work to demonstrate such a property and this emphasis is inherent in the construction of the work, which involves the inter-connection of the piping.


Another important aspect of Bollinger’s approach is his seeming insistence that beauty or at least visual interest can be found in the most commonplace, industrial, mass- produced objects such as a length of chain fencing which with a simple twist is rendered a complex three-dimensional geometrical form.  A room full of graphite powder becomes a record of it own making with the footprints of the gallery technician preserved on the parquet flooring and splatterings of the material on the walls.


Elsewhere a 44-gallon oil barrel – familiarly used on building sites as makeshift braziers – has been filled with water that is slowly evaporating, leaving a record of its own existence and disappearance on the sides of the drum.  The patterns of oxidisation become something to be regarded, not ignored.  Perhaps this is what Bollinger is saying – that the apparently ‘ordinary’ physical processes around us are actually things to be noted and wondered at.


Other aspects of Bollinger’s method seem more complex and mathematical.  These are concerned with variation and endless combination as in his Volkswagen Rope Pieces that dismantled the famous VW emblem into its component parts and proposes these as sketches on paper and physical sculpture.


Bollinger’s eye and mind seem omnivorous, finding visual interest, complexity and beauty in the built and constructed 20th century that he so briefly inhabited, rendering it fresh and unusual – changing it forever.