Klaus Kumrow

Galerie Jandrig

Important aspects of the new sculpture being produced by young German artists are on the one hand a concern with the functionalism and overrationality of the cultural environment, and on the other an interest in sculpture as composition, as an exercise within the field of art. References to familiar objects from art and from everyday life, the suggestion of a rational “will to form,” withdrawal into a fantasy unhampered by any temporal or spatial restrictions, the construction of language and the destruction of grammar—all come together here. In this context the work of the young Hamburg artist Klaus Kumrow is of particular interest. Made of wood and paper and painted with water-based house paint, these sculptures suggest a fragmentary anthropological study of a civilization whose artifacts swing back and forth between the familiar and the strange, the near and the distant, the present and the timeless.

A speaker’s podium, an observation platform, a telescope, gears, wheels—the sculptures are not exact copies of such objects, but they generate similar visual impulses. Kumrow’s techniques of facture are built on the simplest, most utilitarian structural elements of our everyday functionalist environment: cubes, disks, pipes, dowels. Wood and paper are unpretentious materials, and they give the sculptures the appearance of maquettes. The colors are muted, unsensational; the paint is so dull and flat that it is barely distinguishable in resonance from an ordinary coat of wall paint.

The source for this emerging art lies in the minimalist tradition, and in the mixture of archaic and science fiction images that such artists as Dennis Oppenheim and Alice Aycock have developed from what were once minimalist ideas. New German sculpture such as Kumrow’s, however, attaches increasing importance to the rift between on the one hand the images and concepts inherent in our everyday environment and in the forms it displays, and on the other the givens of sculpture. One senses the artist’s intention to apply his “will to form” to more than just the field of art, his desire to actually intervene in a world increasingly deformed by overrationality. Utilitarianism is clearly undermined by the fragmentary, fragile nature of the work; the wood, paper, and house paint evoke an impermanent status.

The work’s maquettelike character plays an important role in this ambivalence between the need to make form and the rejection of any kind of utility, between the idea of the world or environment that the artist can create and the obvious impracticability of these products of art. Where one regards the fragility of a maquette as a necessary evil, the fragility of Kumrow’s finished sculptures is of a different order, for these are clearly not preparatory studies but autonomous, self-sufficient expressions of a free imagination. The works are not rationally comprehensible. Everything they suggest through their playful invocation of everyday artifacts is turned upside down. For me, they even eluded the ordering carried out by memory: a second viewing of the show revealed sculptures by no means identical with those I thought I remembered. Similarly, as one moves around the sculptures they present no unified, closed gestalt, but a series of wandering images. The resultant unease one feels with one’s comprehension of Kumrow’s objects, which are, after all, spatial and material structures factually present before ones eyes, sits oddly with the flat, cool way they present themselves.

Sculptures like Kumrow’s lie somewhere between architecture and utilitarian objects. Yet they attain a timelessness and placelessness by transforming the serviceable purpose of architecture and object into its opposite. Functionless in a rational world, the works seem absurd; but the energy their matter-of-fact construction conceals counters the absurdity of the rational world with the freedom of human creativity—as energy, not as practical, utilitarian blueprint.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.