New York

Bernd Koberling

Annina Nosei

The first wave of “violent painters” from Berlin—Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf, Salomé, and Bernd Zimmer—were of some interest, because they were so sophisticated in their use of style. They seemed to make references to a national culture (German Expressionism in particular), but did so in order to link that culture and its trappings in a provocative way to that of America of the ’60s by keying their allusions to color field and stain painting, Pop, performance, and rock ’n’ roll. The work came from Berlin, but attested to the Americanization of Europe in as sly a manner as possible by making fake American paintings in Europe (this in odd contrast to the work of some painters in New York, who want to make fake European paintings here).

Unfortunately the success of the younger Germans has encouraged their elders (who are often also their teachers) to present their wares over here as well. As a result we have been recently overwhelmed with second hand, second-rate expressionism of the worst sort—a sincere expressionism, which is unable to recognize its own entrapment within the conventions of a style.

Bernd Koberling is only the latest of these, an art teacher from Berlin and Düsseldorf who has spent a good deal of time in Lapland seeking inspiration. The pictorial results are predictably dark landscapes and seascapes with threatening rock formations, close-ups of cormorants, and the occasional solitary figure, arms outstretched as if mimicking the sea birds. The paintings are somber in effect, with blacks, browns, and purples predominating, lightened with touches of pink and yellow over the dark ground—emotive highlights of a banal kind. The canvas is coarse, of course, and the paint splashy and mostly thin, with a lot of those feathery drips caused by too much turpentine. The brushstrokes, and the marks that delineate form, are sketchy in an extremely mannered way, making the artist’s “visions” appear doubly inauthentic: borrowed ideas dressed up in a borrowed style, but presented as if they were the result of some long and arduous struggle with the self, alone in nature.

Thomas Lawson