Critics’ Picks

Autos und Fraun (Cars and Woman), 2007, oil on canvas, 19 3/8 x 16 7/8".

Autos und Fraun (Cars and Woman), 2007, oil on canvas, 19 3/8 x 16 7/8".


Henrieke Ribbe

Klara Wallner Galerie
Kochstrasse 60
January 19–March 8, 2008

The images in this exhibition, among them a snapshot of Paris Hilton in sunglasses in front of her sports car and a glassy-eyed Amy Winehouse in a limousine, would normally disappear quickly. They are products of the glamour industry, made for glossy gossip magazines, to be forgotten a week later. But Henrieke Ribbe captures these moments in oil, interspersing small portraits of celebrities with the fleeting moments of her own life: family celebrations, her friends in their offices, or a dancer in fur at an old Berlin ballroom. Whether global celebrity or schoolmate, for Ribbe everyone is a member of the family. This is not ironic commentary on the current obsession with fame, but an accurate observation of the way we live with pictures every day.

At first glance, it looks as if Ribbe’s small-format portraits follow Elizabeth Peyton’s tried-and-true formula. But Peyton’s canvases depict the transformative formality, the conclusiveness, of a portrait session—even when the paintings are based on a photograph. Ribbe, however, sticks to the evanescent moment. The work’s strength lies in this decision, and in the photographs she chooses, which depict how we stage our lives with gestures. For example, a portrait of Reinhard Bütikofer, the cochairman of the German Green Party, campaigning in the provinces hangs next to a film still of a 1940s-era diva whose arms are in the same position and whose gaze points in the same direction. A young man in his office gives a hearty wave to the photographer just like the Hollywood hero in the adjacent picture. These small paintings show life as a film, unspooling in quietly iconic moments.