until 07.04. | #1845ARTatBerlin | Sprüth Magers Berlin presents from 9th February 2018 an exhibition by the artist Axel Kasseböhmer.
The new exhibition in the Berlin area of Sprüth Magers looks back on the work of Axel Kasseböhmer, who died last year after a long illness. Throughout his life, Kasseböhmer positioned himself apart from the painterly fashions and trends, yet his work influenced the Cologne art scene of the 1980s and was central to the development of German painting. He leaves behind a vast and influential work that is characterized by a radical, conceptual approach to painting and is characterized by an acute awareness of the lost values of the painterly.
In the flickering retrospective of Axel Kasseböhmer’s work, for the second time all the rooms of the Berlin gallery are being screened with works by an artist. Many pictures of the exhibition have not been available to the public for a long time. The main focus of the show is on the great Walchensee works that have been created in the last few years of life that have never been seen before and form the brilliant finale of a unique lifelong exploration of the medium of painting.
Axel Kasseböhmer became known at the end of the 1970s when he was still studying with Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf. The work complex that helped him make his breakthrough was a series of enigmatic oil paintings in which he depicted details from historical paintings and raised them to their own motif in a game of perception and proportion. At a time when the art history of contemporary art was less and less the standard, Kasseböhmer – who had even skipped school when he was a teenager – returned to the classical repertoire. Sometimes the motives of this phase of the work, as in the Picasso homage bull skull (1985), are quickly attributable; As a rule, however, the viewer is left in the dark about their origin. The Work Houses (1980), for example, takes an insignificant architectural detail from a crucifixion by Fra Angelico as a model. Green dress with red (1979) raises a vaguely familiar cut from the Arnolfini wedding by Jan van Eyck to the motif, the large-format work Stoff 1 (1981) the drapery of a dress from a saintly portrait of Francisco de Zurburán and landscape with architecture (1981) an arbitrary image from a classicist allegory by Nicolas Poussin. The paintings that hang in the Louvre, the National Gallery or the Prado, Kasseböhmer had mostly never seen in the original. Instead, he used color reproductions of books and catalogs as a template. On the one hand, his works attest to an incomparable trust in the persuasive power of historical paintings, and on the other hand, they possess a completely independent, sensual-auratic quality.
Kasseböhmer once said that he had ended his series of quotations when he began to subsume his works under the term postmodernism. From that time on, he was to focus primarily on the genres of painting that have led to a mere art historical shadow existence since modern times: with still life and time and again with landscape. Especially in his series of pictures of tree, city and marine landscapes from the 1980s and 1990s, Kasseböhmer systematically measured the possibilities of painting with different styles and means. His development of his own content and formal language was not only accompanied by an increasing exploration of the painterly craft, but also by a progressive seriality in which he played this language in a nearly musical way. For his seascapes Kasseböhmer used, for example, oil paint, which was so diluted that it received a transparency similar to that of water and counteracted a change between naturalism and abstraction. In the gestural forms of his series landscape yellow, green, for which he focused on only two shades, both themes of environmental and the art destruction sounded. With his decided renunciation of irony, Kasseböhmer clearly stood out from many of his Cologne painter colleagues of the time and their idea of the end of painting. His images confidently opposed a time when everything could be made into a mediatized image and every facet of painting could be conceptually destroyed. Instead, they tried to show the viewer what only painting is capable of.
In the large-scale Walchensee series, which was created in the years before Axel Kasseböhmers death and followed a series of small-scale Walchensee landscapes, many strands of his lifelong exploration come together with the painterly. He knew that Lovis Corinth’s last landscapes were created before his death at the lake in the Bavarian Prealps. Like Corinth, Kasseböhmer also pursued a private project in his two Walchensee series. Recalling the religious tradition of meditation images, he appeared to face his grave illness and approaching death.
In part, the stylistic elements of these works are coded in an art historical way, reminiscent of Corinth, Matisse, Munch or contemporary artists such as Richter, Polke and Liechtenstein. In part, they are based on experimental painting techniques. The oil paint on these paintings has often been scratched, combed, dabbed or painted on canvas. Sometimes Kasseböhmer uses the color so that it shines and sometimes so that it appears dull. Sometimes it seems downright transparent, sometimes it is applied so thick that an orange peel appears on the surface of the picture. The result is a panorama that playfully captures the landscape around Lake Walchensee as well as the history of landscape painting and the associated idea of the soul landscape. These are images that are both obsolete and contemporary beyond measure.
The salient feature of the Walchensee works is their resistance. These are images that are characterized by a psychological energy that deeply believes in the painterly – an energy that is also reflected in Kasseboehler’s last two self-portraits, which are painterly variations of a photographic masterpiece and can also be seen in the exhibition. In some ways, Kasseböhmer’s entire work can be understood as an attempt to save the pictorial space of painting, with all its wealth of experience, its entire entanglement of art and its depth of meaning intact, into the present. Kasseböhmer was always aware that this attempt was doomed to failure from the outset. His work lives on the belief that one must still try again and again. It is a work that sees in painting a model of hope and a lifeline – and in which the conviction is expressed that painting can be so much more than life.
Public Opening: Thursday, 8th February 2018, 06:00 – 09:00 p.m.
Exhibtion period: Friday, 9th February – Saturday, 7th April 2018Zu Sprüth Magers Berlin
Image caption: Axel Kasseböhmer, Walchensee 37, 2014, © Axel Kasseböhmer, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin
Exhibition Axel Kasseböhmer – Sprüth Magers Berlin | Contemporary Art – Kunst in Berlin ART at Berlin