Cologne

Felix Droese

Galerie Zwirner

Felix Droese has been a hot tip for quite a while, although the quick success currently being achieved in Germany and elsewhere by such groups as MühIheimer Freiheit has eluded him. Droese, comprehensively presented here with an exhibition of scissors cutouts, objects, and drawings, is not easily categorized: his drawings in particular, and his poster for the Polish Solidarity movement, reveal some kinship with the expressively anarchistic gesture of other members of his generation (he was born in 1950), but the pointers in another direction are far more numerous. In the catalogue for the “Heute” section of last year’s Westkunst exhibition, in which his contribution was surely one of the most noteworthy of the new art. Droese quoted James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is tempting to suppose that he is skeptically, aggressively, and ironically aware of the contradiction between the artistic vision of the free individual and the conditions that make the vision unfulfillable, and that he portrays this consciousness.

A monumental three-part paper cutout from 1981, Wir bettler and Verboecher (We beggars and Criminals), a work like a medieval altar, provides a clue through the deliberately incorrect orthography in the title. Apart from his resumption of an ancient pictorial technique characteristic of folk art—i.e., the scissors cutout or silhouette—here lies the fascination of Droese: his provocation of the viewer by his resistance to quick categorization. Another manifestation of this is his striking use of the “incomplete”: like parcels that have been too hastily opened and never completely unpacked, handcrafted objects may be left in a ragged state. In this way Droese even distances himself from the large, spontaneous-seeming paper cutouts.

The work also invokes resistance against hasty interpretation of it. “Beggars and criminals”—aha! Is that what we are? And we try to recognize ourselves among the puzzling images. We find a creative aggression, and unsettling images both intellectual and emotional. All this in a technique that “plays” with the tension between reality and shadow, vision and artifice. The rear sides of the silhouettes are finished in such a manner that they glow.

A cutout in blue paper, a head deriving roughly from a circle, has the strange precision of prehistoric cave drawings. In the center is written the word “was” (what). As a child one was not permitted to ask such questions—it was not considered fitting. And the situation today scarcely provides occasion for a polite request for an explanation—“what,” then, if not to continue fighting, injuring? In 5 Zeugen (5 Witnesses) five decayed wooden planks stand against a wall; four of them show carved faces resembling masks at their upper ends. These make one think of archaic eras, and of warnings. With some surprise the ecologically savvy visitor reads “die natur bringt uns Alle um” (“nature is killing us all”) in a drawing suggesting a fiery cave, a face, or the origin of things. Perhaps what is meant is man’s nature, which is evidently not prepared to impede the destruction of the natural world—not even if that entails the destruction of man’s own nature. Resistance by provocation. Not many contemporary artists work so vehemently and jarringly in the space between skepticism and commitment. Resistance for the sake of freedom—freedom from the esthetic of indolent satisfaction or of the free but aimless style of many young artists.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.