Critics’ Picks

Raimund Girke, The Force of the Vertical, 1997, oil on canvas, 79” x 87”.

Raimund Girke, The Force of the Vertical, 1997, oil on canvas, 79” x 87”.


Raimund Girke

Gallery Sonja Roesch
2309 Caroline Street
September 10–October 29, 2011

White, one may conclude from the eighteen paintings by Raimund Girke in this exhibition, is most evident when sharpened by the contrast of grays and blues. In these works, characteristic of Girke’s late output of the 1990s (he died in 2002), overlapping fields of white give way with partial transparency to contrasting blocks of darker colors. Girke’s ambiguous, suggestive treatment of white, which he called the “queen of colors,” opens the door to symbolic associations, like snow and purity, without quite insisting on them: Although Girke’s trajectory derived from his 1950s rejection of art informel’s subjectivism in favor of materialism, his work allows viewers to read in meaning if they wish. His paintings deliver “the rest of continuous motion,” to use a phrase that Girke attributed to Lao Tzu, with a sense of rhythm and vibration common to works of pure abstraction since Kandinsky.

These works avoid a purely objective, reductive version of the grid and the monochrome, instead evincing variability, contingency, and sensitivity. Individual brushstrokes can be traced, but these show more discipline than abandon. Even if Girke’s whole career was devoted to systematic programs—the investigation of white, for example—the individual works are irregular and impossible to reduce to simple readings that would equate a given painterly form with a natural or spiritual phenomenon. Their “fluctuating movement,” to quote the artist again, is hard to pin down.

Much recognized in Germany since the 1970s, Girke has scarcely been seen in the United States, aside from a 1959 canvas in the 2009 survey “Art of Two Germanys,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and another in the permanent collection of Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum. This, the artist’s first solo exhibition in the US, will help clarify whether Girke’s sense of painting as investigation may have more in common with, say, Robert Ryman than with the self-reflexivity of a fellow countryman such as Gerhard Richter.