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European contemporary painting - traces and signs

1984-08-25 Spuren und Zeichen
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On the occasion of the two-thousandth anniversary of the city of Trier, after the numerous historical and art-historical exhibitions, an important show of contemporary European painting has now been opened.

In several rooms of a renovated factory, 75 works by 35 European painters are presented, created in the period from about 1960 to the present day, but most of them dating from the last three to four years. The exhibition was organized by the "European Academy of Fine Arts Trier" under the responsible direction of Professor Erich Kraemer.

Guiding aspects of the exhibition were formulated in the invitation text as follows: ''Form and color as a means of design of space on the surface have found in the German area in the Roman mosaics and wall paintings of Trier earliest evidence plasticity from the composition of line, surface division and coloring was in European painting traditionally in the service of motive and suggestive power." The intention of the exhibition is to gather such works of contemporary painting that "give renewed vivacity to the old principle in the modern world." These broad formulations thus aim to build a bridge between the oldest painterly traditions on German soil and contemporary artistic creation. For a more precise definition of such traditional connections, however, it was necessary to define the terms more precisely. The question was, above all, what was to be understood by "motif" in the above-mentioned sentence. "Motif" in Old European painting continued to be the figural theme, and even in the non-figural, in landscapes for example or still lifes, mostly the representation of concrete objects and object contexts. The Trier exhibition also shows a number of representational paintings, up to extremely reified depictions, for example Erro. What connects such works with the abstract, non-representational paintings, which form the majority here? Do they stand in mere contrast to them?

The exhibition shows as a common principle the representation of the "elemental" in its various manifestations. Here an arc is spanned between "abstract" and representational painting, while also satisfying the other criteria mentioned, i.e. those developed from painting's own foundations.

Emil Schumacher is represented with three large paintings of the years 1981/82, dark panels crossed by black stripes and lightened in white fields. The circling calm of the earth seems to gain a vivid form here. They are juxtaposed with three paintings by Antoni Tapies, thus bringing to mind the range in the illustration of earthy materiality, Tapies' panels accentuating the moment of a mute, hermetic resistance, at the same time aging and the burden of fate.

A painting by Pierre Alechinsky is dedicated to the abysmal nature of water. The Belgians Alechinsky and Corneille and the Dutchman Karel Appel, who used to belong to the "Cobra" group, are represented at the exhibition with new works that testify to the fact that their artistic work has lost nothing of its power and forcefulness.

English art is represented by a number of very individual painters. Anthony Wishaw (born 1930) addresses the dialectic of "outside" and "inside," opening and closing, in his painting "Interior triptych" from 1983/84. Gary Wragg's (born 1946) works are determined by the luminous radiance of the colors and linear energy, Frank Auerbach's (born 1931) landscapes and portraits create figures and objects with expressive brushstrokes that seem to be shaken by elemental, overpowering excitement.

It is a merit of this exhibition to introduce painters who are highly respected abroad, but hardly known in Germany, to the German art-interested public with important works. Simon Hantaï, who represented France at the 1972 Venice Biennale, shows several of his characteristic works, which form creased structures by means of canvas folds and capture shimmering light in colored squares. Jean Pierre Pincemin likewise combines a geometric formal basis with highly subtle color design, his artistic intention being to approximate the pictorial reality of Venetian Renaissance paintings.

The Italian painting (st represented by works of Piero Dorazio from 1958 to 1960, which bring light to view by means of a color chromatics and paintings Mimmo Paladino (b. 1948), demon-invoking panels filled with color and formal tensions, so by works of different generations and highly diverse modes of expression. Spanish painting is represented, alongside Tapies, by Bonifazio and Jose Guerrero, the latter with paintings of luminous color. These two artists were also almost unknown in Germany until now.

In German painting, the arc likewise spans from strict construction with light and dark painting with Frank Badur to the various possibilities of expressive and ''factual'' -object-representing art. The middle generation of expressive-"wild" painting is represented by Markus Lüpertz with dark paintings that reveal fragments of human existence to demonic powers. Mario Radina (b. 1956) gives an answer to the younger generation with semi-abstract images condensed from gestural swaths of color, which release shadowy heads from themselves. Martin Assig (b. 1959), Mette Larsen (b. 1952) and Gabi Schilling (b. 1958) belong to the same generation: they bring expressive figurations into the picture on different levels of objectification. At the extreme pole of representational solidification, however, is Peter Klasen (born 1935), who has been working in Paris for a long time and in whose paintings the magic of urgency takes shape in elementarily simple compositions.

Finally, the Trier "European Academy" joins this European overview with two of its lecturers: Peter Valentiner, the Frenchman, intersperses the colors in his works with intense linear and spatial energies, the Trier-born Erich Kraemer, artistic director of the "European Academy", unites subtle color gradation, primarily of gray and brown chords, with relief structures, which carry out the contrast of open and closed form, finiteness and infinity. With such participation, the Trier Academy convincingly documents the rank of its teachers in a European comparison.

The exhibition impressively testifies to the liveliness and diversity of contemporary European painting. How insubstantial it makes the dull complaints about the decay, the disorientation of contemporary art, as they have been heard not infrequently in recent years, seem! But neither does it conjure up a "New Spirit in Painting", nor is it content with the construction of a selective "Zeitgeist". The idea of the exhibition, to understand contemporary painting by bringing together several generations in the continuity of its artistic development, as, stretched further, in view of the connection with European painting from its local Roman origins, becomes a visual experience. In this way, the exhibition also takes into account the art-historical realization that in the advanced twentieth century it can no longer be a matter of inventing ever new, short-lived, "postmodern", "transaventgardist" or however declared styles, but rather of grasping modern painting in its meaningful diversity and in its large contexts.


Trier, Cloth Factory, Weberbach/Wechselstraße

August 25 to November 18, 1984, daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.


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