New York

Bernd Zimmer

Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Choosing subject matter to paint is evidently the least of Bernd Zimmer’s worries. No matter how banal the reality may be, Zimmer will make it look as if it’s a hallucination. His neo-Expressionist landscapes all have the feel of imminent catastrophe, as if in every innocent scene there exists some terribly subtle crime, hidden from the pedestrian eye.

In Grosser Wasserfall (Large Waterfall), 1980, a rush of light water cascades downward over ragged rocks that hover in midair, threatening to crash out of the picture plane. The spatial relationships between rocks and water are a little irrational, askew; the more we look, the more aware we become of Zimmer’s fantasy. Whatever we might imagine is happening wouldn’t happen in reality quite the way that Zimmer has us see it. Badende (Nachts) ([Night] Bathers), 1979, in which we see sketchy black figures waist-deep in a dark blue ocean, pushes the idea of artificial disaster one step further into the realm of the mannered. There is no reason to believe that these bathers are making their way to doom—none except the heavy, somber colors and the lack of orienting detail, which are enough to make us aware of Zimmer’s deliberately paranoid stance. Similarly, in his paintings of bulls, Zimmer has his fun: the positioning of the animals’ heads forcefully recalls Franz Marc’s fantastical horses’ heads, but unlike Marc’s they are just realistic enough to seem physically threatening.

Expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde, and Post-Impressionists like van Gogh, could certainly make their innocent subjects as disconcerting as Zimmer and other young neo-Expressionists make theirs; but the concept of displacement or chaos seems far more important to Zimmer and others than does the manifestation of that displacement on the canvas. In Artforum (September 1981) Wolfgang Max Faust has written that the current work of the neo-Expressionists from Berlin is fascinating because it suggests a “yearning to belong” with those who “expressed themselves out of a deep, inescapable need.” Though Bernd Zimmer is an accomplished painter, the idiosyncrasies of his paintings aren’t nearly as interesting as that yearning itself, which seems an artificial burden.

Joan Casademont