Cologne

Dieter Teusch

When the Cologne-based artist Dieter Teusch last exhibited here he showed sculptures—perfidiously beautiful, hideously bizarre images in space: death as a pile of dishes, Venus as a geometrical form on a platform decorated with feathers. The kinds of objects Teusch used then appear in subliminal form in these new paintings. Some of the directness has been reined in; the painted field knows other potentials and limits than the dialogue among objects in space. However, as with the sculptures, the big, banal allusions pervading Teusch’s work coax out strange, obscure disjunctions. Also as in the sculptures, inventive handiwork (not to say tricks) complicates what might be insignificant (or might not be), heightening and questioning it. The titles of these works are misleading if one leans on them too heavily: Ein geniales Reitpferd (A clever riding-horse, 1984), for example, shows a rusty red radiator, a curved line and geometric figures of the same color, and some green spatterings, all on a fluffy gray white ground. What’s really there is just an everyday object and a little geometry. The quality of the painting, its contrast between the light, softly worked ground and the harder texture of the objects and forms, is insidiously cultivated to such an extent that one perhaps imagines it to be more than it actually is.

Teusch’s paintings balance perfectly on the edge. The conversion of the represented objects into poetic ensembles is effected above all through the painting process. As ground, the color is often alluringly light and airy, but in the images it becomes as hard as if oilcloth had been cut and applied to the canvas. The upper parts of telephone poles are a color with about the charm of sandpaper. A skull looks to have been assembled from a kit—but it’s painted, of course, though in the coolest, most direct manner possible. This was perhaps the weakest painting in the show, provocative only on the surface; it was quite otherwise with Die Ungetrennten (The unseparated ones, 1984), a work as beautiful and sentimental as it is finally indecipherable. Above the horizontal image of a fencer is outlined a rectangle, floating on a diagonal. Inside is trapped a golden sun. Blue swordsman, red geometry, and gold orb swim as coolly and naturally as can be on Teusch’s now-familiar fluffy grayish ground.

These paintings play with design and with the ceremony inherent in objects and materials. Geometric signs evoke constellations; fragments from classical architecture turn up, and archetypal hero figures, gold, feathers, ceremonial red and blue. The components always appear interconnected, disposed to reveal a single magical meaning. The titles have the ring of poetry, and one tries to relate title to image, but the rational analyst is left with meager results, even though we are correct in assuming that Teusch’s imagery springs from a predominantly intellectual mind. A cool composer, his distance from spontaneous gesture enables him to achieve a refinement of image and material that turns mind and emotion topsy-turvy. It’s not even clear what one reacts to first: the figures and signs, the paint, or the obvious connect ion between the two.

Teusch’s images do not emerge from the tumult of current German expression. He remains distanced, isolating images and fragments of images and exploring the consequent artificiality within the context of the artificiality of art as a whole. To see what will happen, he heightens artifice with all the means of the painter’s craft. The fragments remain fragments. Art keeps its right to be nothing but art, staging. As always, however, images, signs, media, and compositions set up their own game—a game the Surrealists knew. “This is not a pipe,” said Magritte, though perhaps it was in fact a pipe; who would want to make the decision? This is art, and not reality. The confrontation short-circuits in the conscious mind and creates its own heat, making us grin and sometimes shudder. Pleasure and fright are close bedfellows.

Annelie Pohlen