we’re opening our show of artists from düsseldorf
in the new york gallery tonight. here are some installation shots:
an installation by luka fineisen made from artificial hair and an existing skylight.
paintings by stefan ettlinger…
and jutta haeckel.
a “bubble” sculpture, also by luka fineisen
paintings of bernard lokai,
and cornelius völker.
an essay written by amei wallach, who’ll be leading a panel discussion with a group of the artists in the gallery on saturday.
DOING SOMETHING ELSE IN DÜSSELDORF
When Germany won the Franco/Prussian War in 1871, it declared itself a Reich in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. That Reich was a pieced together patchwork of princedoms, bishoprics, duchies, kingdoms and free municipalities.
Throughout modern Germany’s tumultuous history, this sense of regional independence and civic competition has persisted, particularly in the realm of culture. There is scarcely a German city worth the name that does not support its own opera house, theater, concert hall, museum, and kunsthalle. Provincial and municipal governments have traditionally poured money into institutions that support artists and educate their audiences. Those audiences have long had the chops to view, collect, and above all argue art. And nowhere is this more evident than in the city of Düsseldorf.
Düsseldorf may be smaller and have fewer galleries than Cologne, its chief artistic rival in the state of Nordheim Westfalen. But Düsseldorf is the state capital, centered on the Rhine, and closer to Belgium and the Netherlands than New York is to Washington. Even at its most inward looking, it had the bones to become an international city.
To many in Germany in the early 1950s, and particularly at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf , this meant signing onto the worldwide preoccupation with abstract art, a language with the utopian potential of overcoming inconvenient local tics or the unpalatable past, a kind of visual Esperanto that all nations could be taught to speak.
And then came the ZERO Group and Joseph Beuys. By the time Beuys, the Kunstacademie student, became a professor in 1961, he was teaching a new generation to confront Germany’s history and their own in often ephemeral and metaphorical objects, performances, film and street theater that resonated with a blossoming international movement, Fluxus. Fluxus practitioners, including Nam June Paik and George Macunias, came to the Akademie to teach, followed by Minimalists like Robert Morris. Gerhard Richter, Jörg Immendorff and other refugees from East Germany imported irony and for a time applied it to a form of Pop they called Capitalist Realism.
In 1972, Beuys, acting on his conviction that “art is for everyone,” admitted 50 students whose applications had been turned down by the prestigious school and was fired by the Minister of Science and Research. The whole city went wild, arguing both sides with a proprietary interest unimaginable in, say, Baltimore.
Basically, art put Düsseldorf on the map as more than a financial and industrial capital. The 1960s and 1970s established Düsseldorf and its Akademie as one of the centers of the European art universe. Bruce Nauman, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, and Daniel Buren found an audience there. Sigmar Polke and Thomas Struth studied at the Akademie. Rosemarie Trockel, Richter, and the photographer Bernd Becher taught there. Graduates found studio space, galleries, collectors and the availability of other artists to talk to. They stayed.
After reunification in the 1990s, some of them went to Berlin, the hot new art city. But studios are no longer so inexpensive in Berlin, and life is harder, so some are returning, the artist Luka Fineisen says.
In Düsseldorf, museums and art spaces, large and small, have grown apace. This year’s “Quadriennale” the second all-city arts festival, now on view through January 16, 2011, includes exhibitions by nine Düsseldorf museums and galleries.
The message is that Düsseldorf not only has a past on which to rest its laurels, it has a vital future. A focused moment in that future is on view in the Hosfelt Gallery’s New York exhibition: EINFLUSS; 8 from Düsseldorf – Introducing the Next Wave from Germany.
Gallery owner Todd Hosfelt has made any number of trips to Düsseldorf and was galvanized by the range and the depth of the art. The show he assembled is a curated show, with an emphasis on painting and sculpture, particularly painting. There could have been different exhibitions of younger Düsseldorf artists engaged with video, performance, installation, and new media, particularly now that the British sculptor Tony Cragg has become director of the Akademie.
To one degree or another, the artists in this exhibition — Stefan Ettlinger, Luka Fineisen, Jutta Haeckel, Birgit Jensen, Stefan Kurten, Bernard Lokai, and Cornelius Völker – are connected with the Akademie. They are in their 30s and 40s, so their years there were under the long shadow of the Neo-expressionist painter Markus Lüpertz, who directed the school from 1988 to 2009. His stated predilection is for painting over everything.
On the Deutschewelle television show, “Talking Germany,” Lüpertz declared, “People would like to abolish painting because photography is easy to understand.” He pledged his allegiance to abstraction – “the material of the paint begins with the material of the canvas” — and declared that painting cannot be international because painting is “always defined by where the artist happens to be.”
Nevertheless, Fineisen says, “I liked to be in his school, though I wouldn’t want him to be my alpha animal.”
She had studied in the U.S., at the Memphis College of Art, where technique and degrees were the focus, “which is stupid when it comes to art,” she says. In Düsseldorf students worked on their own together in a large room in order to discover themselves, with professors on hand when needed.
“The professors were just living their lives as successful artists, so it was less about teaching and more about showing how an artist’s life can be,” she says.
She relished the teasing playfulness that was in the air at school and is central to her sculptures. So is a sense of materials as the site of investigation and experimentation, which she shares with the painters in this exhibition. Her work “Honey,” at Hosfelt, consists of a large plexiglas frame within which resins with the misleading look of honey seem to drip onto a bar below. In her work “Milk,” the substance is white. The sculptures impudently riff on Wolfgang Laib’s spirituality, while drawing attention to duration and process.
Process and flux are also at the heart of Stefan Ettlinger’s painting “Acht” (Eight), in egg tempera and oil on canvas. The images in the painting – possibly a mountain, possibly a train – are ambiguous and slippery.
Birgit Jensen blows up digital images and paints them in acrylic on linen, creating billowing swells of insubstantiality and movement that distance and manipulate nature into its pixilated equivalent.
“Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it,” Jasper Johns famously wrote in his notebook. In effect, that is what these artists do with the infinite variety of paint and canvas.
Or to put it Gerhard Richter’s way, “What I’m attempting in each picture is nothing other than this… to bring together in a living and viable way, the most different and the most contradictory elements in the greatest possible freedom.”
But the works on view live in the present. In his oil on canvas “Landschaftsblock N” (Landscape Block N), Bernard Lokai wittily posits a grided vocabulary of homages to the ways in which Anselm Kiefer, Robert Ryman, Willem de Kooning, Fred Tomaselli, or a finger painter might handle paint. The juxtapositions announce their very contemporary skepticism and equivocation.
Cornelius Völker has chosen “Meerschweinchen,” guinea pigs, as the subject for his series of some 60 oil on linen variations on the themes of abstraction, color, gesture, and material. The grounds of the paintings are incandescent bleeding bands of color so improbable that a student once asked him what computer program he used to achieve them.
Guinea pigs are synonymous with the scientific experiments that are done upon them. The guinea pigs that dominate but are not quite centered on Völker’s canvases are experiments in brushwork, in how many ways you can depict fur, by building layers, slashing, dabbing, shading, scraping, swiping. He looks for the moment when the fur becomes the means of depicting it. It becomes color and stroke. And then, to the mercurial eye, it becomes fur again.
“Painting is its own reality,” Richter said.
For these Düsseldorf painters, it is a reality in continuous flux, filled with possibility and doubt.