Annelie Pohlen


    WHEN THOMAS RUFF was introduced as an “up-and-coming” artist at Art Cologne in 1987, the 150th birthday of photography was approaching, with all its accompanying foofaraw. The interest in Ruff at such a time was both curious and appropriate, since his work retrospectively invalidates a fundamental notion about photography throughout its history: the idea of its documentary “reality.” In the photograph, Ruff shows, we are confronted by a second-, third-, indeed nth-hand kind of reality, a reality—whatever that means—fundamentally challenged; or, alternatively, by an utterly absolute reality, the


    MULTIPLICITY IS THE CREDO of post-Modern civilization. Plurality or ambiguity has entertainment value. If the center does not hold, if the final efforts of a philosophical/ideological commitment have lost credibility, then the chameleonlike transformation or—to put it more cynically—the celebration of noncommitment may appear as the ultimate stability in instability. In any case, that would seem to be the best way to describe the current mind-set of Western culture. The era of utopian vision now belongs to history, and any reassertion of utopian values must now smack of romanticism.

    Yet upon


    THE PEOPLE OF BABEL, we are told, tried to build a tower to the sky; tried to storm the infinite regions of God. The story has an inhibiting moral—it is arrogant to imagine a life other than the one we already know—but like the Greek Prometheus myth, it also testifies to an enduring desire to try the limits of the possible. Actual history has shown that the consequences of that desire can be both as liberating and devastating as the myths imply. The early European visitors to the Americas, for example, such as Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, broke through the boundaries of an age’s

  • Stephan Huber

    The most self-aggrandizing of the Baroque kings was the French Louis XIV, the Sun King. One of his later royal namesakes, the 19th-century Bavarian King Ludwig II, had not a little in common with Louis in regard to cultural pomp and universalist ambitions. But Ludwig did not have to look to France for a role model; he had at hand a rich reservoir of Baroque art and architecture, to which he did his utmost to add. Bavaria has been living on the resulting grandeur ever since—as have the arts, too, though in a completely different sense.

    Stephan Huber is one of the most outstanding young sculptors

  • Per Kirkeby

    "It’s [Augustus Charles] Pugin’s dream of a medieval town community,” writes sculptor/painter Per Kirkeby of Copenhagen’s Grundtvig-Church and its environs, which affected him so deeply as a child and have now provided the spiritual “model” for his newest sculpture. It is the initial work in a proposed series of flat brick floor sculptures, which are unprecedented for Kirkeby. This piece, which is untitled, is especially significant in the context of this rendezvous with his childhood, that is, with that particular church. The examination of a historicizing construct from the vantage point of

  • Günther Förg

    The installation design of this recent show shed light on the complexity of Günther Förg’s work, which continues to resist stylistic categorization. (One is reminded of the intermediary-form concepts of the early Constructivists.) The museum’s central gallery was both the site of the exhibition and a work of art in itself. The wall opposite the gallery entrance served as the ground for an untitled wall painting, a graduated arrangement of colored rectangles that resembled a steep stairway; above these, a dark green band ran the length of the wall. The remaining walls were hung with monumental

  • That can hatch from an infinity of eggs.

    THE CENTRAL EXHIBITOIN OF the 42nd Venice Biennale, “Arte e Scienza” (Art and science), provoked questions even before the traditional “varnishing” —the preview—of this multinational event. At various times in our century the arts and the sciences have drawn close to each other in a mutual exchange, but in the '80s, as scientific thought has grown increasingly inaccessible and incomprehensible, a mood of pessimistic alienation has developed between the two. The question even arises as to whether the theme of art and science is a good point of departure fora show today—is it the light at the end

  • Gustav Kluge

    The location of Gustav Kluge’s paintings is an experiential realm that lies somewhere between external reality and the unconscious. Here, isolated figures swim about in an impastoed sea of petit bourgeois experiences—petit bourgeois in this case having nothing to do with class-specific behavior but rather with the generation of our lives into trivialities. One of the most striking works at Zwirner showed a small, rather helpless-looking female creature carrying an enormous black male figure like a club through a landscape of paint. Entitled Der Spielgefährte (The playmate, 1985–86), this is an

  • Miriam Cahn

    The famous question Is it still possible to write poetry after Auschwitz? has been transformed by the Swiss artist Miriam Cahn into the no less pressing question, Is it still possible to make significant art in a world that is threatened by the nuclear bomb?

    Cahn’s medium is drawing, a painterly kind of drawing marked by many gradations between black and white, line and surface, figure and spatial expanse. Her images are traumatic, comparable to that incomprehensible dance of figures in a dream, where location is as difficult to define as it is in Cahn’s work. Each drawing intensifies this

  • Imi Knoebel

    For the Modernists, nonfigurative art was the inevitable goal of all future evolution in the arts. According to midcentury wisdom, one was either an abstractionist or dead. Then came the declaration of the end of Modernism, and objective artists, content painters, triumphed over the “contentless” artists. Now, roughly five years after the victory celebration of the figurative artists, art brokers are announcing the rebirth of nonobjective painting with “geometria nova” (new geometry), a style exemplified by the work of John Armleder, Helmut Federle, Matt Mullican, and Gerwald Rockenschaub. What


    IN A RAW BARE ROOM at the last Documenta exhibition, in Kassel, West Germany, in 1982, stood a sloppily constructed sculpture of gutterlike lengths of metal propped up on uneven legs so as to assume, on careful inspection, the rough outline of an airplane. Water poured from a pipe to run in a stream through this system of gutters, like a source of energy or power. The creator of the work was Albert Hien, a Munich-based sculptor born in 1956, making him one of the youngest participants in Documenta 7—to many, a complete unknown. Despite its interest, this installation of his was poorly attended—it

  • Gerhard Richter

    Gerhard Richter has exhibited his work so infrequently in the past that this retrospective has of necessity turned into an art-world event. For months the art public has focused its attention on this show, and it will undoubtedly continue to do so, as the exhibition is scheduled to travel to the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Kunsthalle Bern, and the Museum moderner Kunst in Vienna as well.

    It is a unique accomplishment of this exhibit (for which Richter was consulted) that a balance has been struck between chronological documentation and a presentation of important highlights. Of the 191 selected

  • Tony Cragg

    The focus of Tony Cragg’s work of the early ’80s—particularly the schematic human figures composed of found fragments of colored plastic—was the interplay between the image-generating power of the found object and the specific challenge to traditional esthetics inherent in the high-voltage colors of synthetic materials. Plastic is a thoroughly disreputable material for art, yet in its infinite malleability, in the ease with which it can be replaced, it presented the artist with a true creative challenge. Through the processes of art, Cragg assigned a new identity to the artificial refuse of a

  • Künstliche Paradiese

    Fear of the end of the world, and an ensuing appetite for ideas and images of paradise, often grow strong as centuries near their close, but in the 19th century this phenomenon had an earlier precedent in the literary works of Charles Baudelaire. A reference to this theme and to the poet was explicit in an exhibition called “Künstliche Paradiese” (Artificial paradise), curated by Zdenek Felix. Its title comes from Baudelaire’s Les Paradis artificiels (1860), and Felix makes mention of the poet in his catalogue introduction. Baudelaire had attempted, in his work and through his use of drugs, to

  • C. O. Paeffgen

    The West German artist C. O. Paeffgen has challenged the intellectual and esthetic sensibilities of both the viewing public and the purveyors of art with a dense complex of works that resolutely blocks easy access and assimilation. Superficially, he has done this by constantly changing media and styles, asking us to acknowledge the unsettling unpredictability of the terrain of art.

    For years, Paeffgen has characterized each of his installations in terms not of formal tools but of intellectual decisions. This applies to his latest thematic exhibition, “Neun bis null” (Nine to zero), a title

  • Gerwald Rockenschaub

    The simultaneous presentation of the young Austrian artist Gerwald Rockenschaub by the Maenz and Grunert galleries was due more to the two dealers’ overlapping interests (both are astute observers of the young-contemporary art scene) than to the fame (and market value) of the artist’s work. Maenz, who discovered the “Mühlheimer Freiheit” group, has astonished only the absolutists by including the polar trends of ’60s and ’70s minimal/conceptual art and recent “content” painting in his exhibition program; his focus is on discovering and representing artistic languages that are, at least, relevant

  • Eighteenth International São Paulo Bienal

    However one views the 18th International São Paulo Bienal, mounted under the appropriately broad title "Man and Life,” one thing is certain: as an event, this second oldest of all international biennial exhibitions (it was established in 1951, by private endowment) is of extraordinary importance for the Brazilian media landscape and provides an invaluable platform for artistic development on the Latin American continent.

    Latin American artists’ knowledge of international contemporary art comes, to a very large extent, through the critical media; thus each Sao Paulo Bienal becomes a litmus test

  • Richard Tuttle

    The fact that Richard Tuttle’s quiet, poetic works prevailed against the Stádtische Museum’s ponderous, misshapen central exhibition hall speaks not only for his sensitivity in questions of exhibition design but also for the way he incorporates this sensitivity into each of his works. In the five-room exhibition, select works from 1965 to 1985 provided a discourse on formal, perceptual, and intuitive processes. Given its concentrated selectivity, “retrospective” would be an inappropriate term to apply to this show. Taking the central exhibition hall as our gauge, it would appear that the show’s

  • Louis Soutter

    The Swiss artist Louis Soutter (1871–1942) is with good reason being reexamined today in the context of neo-Expressionist, or “uninhibited,” painting. This exhibition of nearly 300 works (many literally dug out of private collections) documented an obsessive productivity, the high point of which was reached after his early confinement in an old people’s home, where he lived from 1923 until his death. Soutter, who was professionally trained as an artist, had always been sickly and mentally unstable. Indeed, what permeates the whole of his work is the determinate expressive mania of an artist who

  • Walter Dahn

    The atmosphere was dignified: color and black-and-white photographs by Walter Dahn were hung in the light-filled exhibition hall of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum. Dahn rejected the idea of a retrospective of his paintings, asking instead for an opportunity to show the main thrust of his work, both preceding his intensive concentration on painting and later paralleling it: namely, his concern with the meaning of the inundation of images supplied by the mass media.

    Some of Dahn’s artistic concerns, obscured by the spontaneity of his painting process, appear more clearly in the photographic work in