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"Painting is dead, long live painting! "

1994-09-29 Malerei ist tot es lebe die Malerei
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Speech by Dr. Barbara Rollmann-Borretty on the occasion of the exhibition: PETER VALENTINER at the Deutsche Privaten Finanzakademie AG

(29 September - 4 November)

As hackneyed as this sentence may sound, it is just as valid today. How often has painting died in the last century and a half? The last time, it died without a sound after the "New Wild Ones" had turned savagery into mannerism.

A direction of contemporary art is working ever closer to the borders of reality. Even if these conceptual actions, spatial installations and work with the (so-called) new media of video and computer largely determine the image of the progressive art landscape today, it must not be forgotten that the majority of the art market, i.e. of purchases and sales, is occupied by two-dimensional pictorial works - be they paintings, prints or even photographs.

Our "national heroes" in art - if we disregard the late Joseph Beuys - Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, also Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, are painters.

Today, in particular, in the age of digital images and rapid art consumption, however, a young generation - as represented, for example, by the Westernhagen Gallery in Cologne - is also setting out to look very closely at the essence of the main components of painting, colour, form and surface.

But even the generation that practised progressive action art during the upsurge of the sixties and seventies today not infrequently works with paper and canvas - which is certainly not to be understood as a sign of age, but rather as a continuation of thought with a different artistic medium.

One can also count Peter Valentiner among these, although his action art has always been an experimental field for problems of painting.

Peter Valentiner was born in Copenhagen and moved to France in 1949. He has lived and worked in Paris since 1971.

In the late sixties, the influences of Pop Art, Op Art and a socially critical intelligentsia were virulent in the European art scene. Peter Valentiner also developed his artistic repertoire in this environment.

The artist was fascinated by optical phenomena; he was interested in a new way of seeing, as was being tried out in non-objective, pure painting. His motivic proximity to Op Art, also to artists such as Vasarely, has been confirmed in art historical retrospect.

He was concerned with the optical illusion and camouflage of the visible world. What could be more obvious than to work with military camouflage nets? Valentine's "invention" was to use these camouflage fabrics and nets in all kinds of situations in the everyday environment - as curtains in private and public spaces, for example. Of course, in addition to the aesthetic attempt, this also expressed a political-critical attitude.

But we are concerned here with painting. The flickering effect of looking through such a net inspired him to his painterly "experiments", which continue to this day.

Early paintings from 1975 clearly show the conundrum effect that a coarse-meshed net produces on a surface. Using a special masking technique, the artist paints in two layers, which, however, do not exactly reveal their roles as foreground and background, as above and below.

Alongside this nevertheless conceptual approach to painting, he is also drawn to the French tradition of painting, which is dedicated to colourism.

Valentiner is an excellent and passionate colourist who is very meticulous about his work. He is never concerned with the "tasteful" combination of colours that might elicit pleasure; he practices a relatively strict colour programme built up from contrasts.

On first viewing these pictures, one might get the impression that they were created out of a lustful intuition. But Peter Valentiner always works with a certain system: this applies especially to the composition of his pictures. Typical for a descendant of the sixties, he works rationally; this is shown on the one hand by his work with stencils, and on the other hand by the principle of series that characterise his work.

This whole attitude turns against the informal art of the post-war period, which, in the end, saw the artist as the intuitive creator of singular masterpieces.

The overcoming of such hierarchical notions is also expressed in Valentine's pictorial content: although compositional elements such as diagonal and centre are always visible, the confusion of the individual waists in relation to each other is the foreboding stylistic element. By shifting colour circles and lines in all possible directions, uncertainty is triggered in the viewer. Painting in several layers again creates a spatial effect.

We almost think of virtual spaces, as simulated by computers today, and as they also fascinate the artist very much. We may find the endless depth of these spaces and the chaotic movement in them in some of the paintings here.

From the mid-eighties onwards, Valentine's painting becomes more rigorous. He worked out a system of formers and counter-forms that emerged from the compositional division of surfaces.

The ribbon work that results from the unfilled forms does not simply remain line, but through its colouring creates the illusion of being a gap in space.

These motifs, which seem to float with their counterparts in space or, in later paintings, on the surface again, obey the principle of the conundrum. Filled and unfilled forms force a constantly folding back and forth juxtaposition. Its functions are all the more puzzling when light and darkness, painted as in a perspective picture, appear here and there.

As long as these possibilities exist, and as long as artists like Peter Valentiner will not stop experimenting with optics on the canvas, painting is not dead.

Vielen Dank.


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