Jürgen Klauke

Galerie Klein

Which is Jürgen Klauke—a performance artist, a photographer, a draftsman, a painter? All of these at once, and in a way both seductive and provocatively subversive. Klauke, born in 1943, is among the leaders of German art today, an artist who not only builds bridges between media but also furthers exchange between the generations of the ’70s and ’80s. At the “Von Hier Aus” (From here out) show in Düsseldorf last fall he presented himself as a performance artist, at once aggressive and severely formalistic. Here he exhibited small, intimate photographs and drawings showing futuristic geometries and surrealistic, dreamlike webs of erotic images (Klauke has been producing such work over a period of years), along with recent, larger drawings saturated with the seductiveness of painting.

The focal point, or perhaps the boiling point, for Klauke’s heated productivity lies in the freedom and vulgarity of the erotic desires and contortions he depicts; it lies in those test cases where the abnormal as normal intersects with the normal as ludicrous. The earlier work provokes the dominant conventional morality both directly and in camouflage, offering mysterious transvestite and hermaphrodite images which clearly grow from the ’70s search for new identity outside bourgeois norms. Klauke’s current mixtures of the ingredients of the human recipe push toward the limits of subversive stylization. In the images from the photo sequence “Very de nada” (Very “its nothing,” 1984), two lovers join in elegant, balletic postures while a third figure, a woman, carries an umbrella. The “stage” lies in deep shadow; an unidentifiable light source picks out naked body parts from the overwhelming darkness. Full of the abstract elegance of isolation, this obscure drama from the night of erotic disjunction is a ballet of helpless but beautiful corporeality.

The cool staging Klauke employs for the technical medium of photography is complemented by the sensually charged fictions of his small drawings and the seething heat of his mysterious, luxuriant figuration in the larger works. In the surreal universe of the small pieces, erotic evocations of human bodies intertwine passionately with quasi-magical geometric signs. Are these figures fertile or impotent, do they conjure with secret signs or are they victims of unnamed forces? Stylizing ornament and figure, runic and geometric signs, into complex fantasies, the works are interpretive traps, seductive labyrinths for the speculative imagination. In the larger drawings, color swells and flows with the transparency of the celestial spheres; at the same time it is poisonous, polluted. Bodies lunge out of it like chimeras of dissipating, unfulfilled desires, only to be absorbed back into its diffuseness. This approach to the human figure recalls both the erotic magic of early cave drawings and the toxic chemical clouds of the modern age. The drawings engage in the erotic fantasy of the melting of boundaries: their schematic figures, some sprouting more than one phallus, merge into a fiery red space from which ghostly black hands grasp and clutch. Is the desire in these works for union or total dissolution? Their atmosphere mixes desire and venom, is full at once of yearning and of vulgarity. The strict formal arrangements of figure and gesture in the photographs denied here by the deliquescence of figure and sign, line and surface, and by the poisonous mixture of the colors of heated sensuality, cosmic clarity, and magical darkness.

Peter Gorsen has called Klauke a “Verwandlungskünstler” (artist of metamorphosis), referring primarily to his transvestite narcissism. But Klauke is a protean artist in many senses—his frequent changes of medium, for example, and his assimilation of different styles. Expressionism and surrealism, abstract and figurative art are not separate entities in his work, but are fused into a stain-streaked cosmos that reflects a very contemporary imagination.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.