Cologne

Ina Barfuss

Galerie Sprüth

However much young artists today may strive to return their work to the traditional sites of art distribution, the gallery and the museum, the museum’s solemnity (often conveyed by the use of expensive media, as at 1982’s Documenta 7) is probably their least concern. In northern Europe, in opposition to art concerned with the mad, sensuous world of gods and demons, one finds indications of an angry settling of accounts with the outmoded norms of the petit bourgeoisie. This trend is not restricted to any one style, content, or medium, and these three exhibitions threw light on its development.

Ina Barfuss, frequently in collaboration with Thomas Wachweger, holds a unique position among the so-called Heftigen (Violents), a group dominated by Salomé, Rainer Fetting, and Helmut Middendorf. Although her painting draws on the legacy of the 20th century, it is altogether in context with the esthetic of banality and anarchy currently pursued by young artists. But unlike the cultivated, uncommitted anarchy proposed by many clever painters “from the gut,” the ugliness of Barfuss’ work stems from the fact that what impels her to paint is ugly.

These are nightmare visions of a world enmeshed in power, sex, exploitation, and strangeness. While the earlier paintings and most of the drawings and gouaches here could be taken in without too much complaint, the new paintings, monumental and frequently in several parts, are too horrifying to cater to any appetite for esthetic pleasure. The heavy surfaces reveal a harsh, sculpturally massive world of entangled painted figures whose most striking characteristic is incredible emptiness. In colors ranging from dull and flat to tastelessly glowing, distorted figures intertwine, tormenting one another, sucking the marrow from each other’s bones. Octopuslike creatures abound, their extravagant tentacles extending from vaguely human bodies. Roughly sketched faces are overwhelmed. This is “German” painting, if you want to think of it that way—characterized by a tendency toward coarse monumentality and an insatiable, unstoppable lust for ruin.

Unlike many of the forms devised by contemporary painters, Barfuss’ figures are not even funny. They are simply horrible, and are intended to be. They are also not arbitrary, as are some of the solemnly discussed pictorial finger exercises in current German art. The works here are not big just to be big, or because painting can be big; they are big because of a horror that weighed too heavily on one person’s soul to remain private. These hideously cold paintings leave no way out; perhaps that is the only salvation.

Annelie Pohlen