Thursday, August 25, 2005

Neo Rauch

I've been away from the blog - had houseguests all last week, and work's been busy. Non-art pursuits have been taking up time too - finally finished the last Harry Potter book (and those of you out there who have read it can share my annoyance at the ending) and saw Chris Isaak at Wolf Trap last night.

So... here are some art thoughts for today.


On my last trip to New York I dropped in on the Neo Rauch show at David Zwirner. Rauch is an artist that intrigues me, because I can’t decide if I like him or not. This is odd for me – I may waffle about many things in my life but art is usually not one of them. I think he’s in my mental category of ??? along with John Currin. I’m pretty sure both artists are either doing something interesting, or are all surface and no depth. At least Rauch doesn’t have the icky vibe much of Currin’s work gives me.

Anyhow, today I saw the catalogue to the Zwirner show Neo Rauch: Renegaten) and I’m reminded that I’m still on the fence. Reading the scattershot catalogue essay didn’t help me any, though the press release is better.

[Aside : several of the reviews of this show I’ve read do little more than regurgitate this press release. Reviewers should be banned from reading press releases until after they’ve written their review, the temptation must be too great]

The mysterious randomness of the figures and environments in Rauch’s paintings simultaneously provoke and annoy me. I want to appreciate them, but I have a lingering suspicion that random is all they are. Rauch has been compared to Eric Fischl, and I can see that – like Fischl, Rauch’s paintings are somewhat awkwardly painted, and situate people in psychologically laden landscapes that are both interior and exterior (mentally and literally). However, Rauch seems to be missing the emotional impact that Fischl’s best work has for me (probably purposefully – he seems willfully dry). Unlike Fischl’s paintings of dysfunctional relationships, Rauch’s scenes are decidedly absurd. The characters seem to refuse to relate to or even acknowledge one another. You can’t see his people thinking, they have no inner lives.

Maybe it’s that Rauch’s people and landscapes seem so mismatched, that the people come across as cardboard cut-outs plopped into more lovingly rendered dioramas. In fact, the catalogue essay indicates that Rauch himself calls his figures “Pappkameraden – cardboard companions”. So, all of this must be intentional. But to what end?

Is there a point where open-ended turns into emptiness? From the essay by Christine Mehring :

“With his workers laboring against any message, Rauch frees figurative painting from its totalitarian legacies and implications of easily accessible, partisan messages.… he restores historical specificity and authentic urgency to a play of meaning that had gotten stuck in the dead end street of irony.”

Like with Currin, I’m stuck with the question – if these paintings aren’t ironic, what are they?

Rauch reviews : here and here.

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