Günther Förg

Galerie van Krimpen

The most noticeable characteristic of the photographs of the German photographer and painter Gunther Förg is that they connect the Post-Modernist idiom with a strong, almost humanist, emotional concern. The human condition in the time after the overthrow of Babylon is intensely observed in his photographs. Locked up in a labyrinth from which there seems no escape, man wanders about in a state of melancholy This desperate post-Babylonian atmosphere is softened only through the communication, made possible by the strongly reflective glass covering the photographs, that connects the viewer directly with the situation in the picture. Trapped in Förg’s images, the reflected face of the viewer is consoled and protected in the womb of the image.

When Förg designs an installation for a specific space, he always incorporates wall-mounted painterly constructions which are related to his photographs. Colored planes and lines absorb the photographs into their structure and create an atmosphere that adds an extra dimension to the images; this gives the work a character consciously outside any category of painting or photography. In this way, Förg’s art offers one of the strongest alternatives to the failure of nerve in most abstract painting, which has not risen above the morass created by Clement Greenberg’s late critical writings. Yet it is clear that this does not interest him.

The only thing that really engrosses Förg is the filmlike aspect of his work, whether influenced by the charming naïvete and flightiness of Jean-Luc Godard or by the cynicism of Alfred Hitchcock. In both his portraits and his architectural images, Förg has long been inspired by the films of Godard. The architectural setting in the French director’s film Le Mépris (1963), the Villa Malaparte on Capri, has particularly engrossed Förg. In this film, Godard’s characters were exiles from modernism, children of the present time looking in vain for utopia. Förg also creates images from this idea. In the fascinating architectural world of the villa we see people searching, longing to reach their dreams, not realizing that what they are looking for no longer exists. This discovery can only end in a confrontation with the “other”—one’s own double.

In an earlier exhibition at the Max Hetzler Gallery, in Cologne, there was a hypnotic atmosphere, like that in the films of the master of horror himself, Hitchcock. Förg’s generally dim colors took on a claustrophobic character through the use of strong red planes and lines. The space felt curiously dangerous, and the spectator had the odd sensation of having been recast as the observed, perhaps even the main character. Black lines became a fearful trellis, the red planes on the wall were like signs of blood. It felt as if the viewer were being watched by the women in the photographs, who seemed lost in thought or in their own pursuits, or who were looking straight at the viewer. Sometimes one had the impression that, like present-day sirens, the women really intended to draw the viewers in and push them down the staircases that appeared in the backgrounds of the photographs. One could really imagine being in a reflected image of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).

In comparison with the atmosphere of suspense in the Cologne show, this exhibition in Amsterdam, which included lithographs and sketches of earlier projects, was an example of clear, restful esthetics. Förg has given painted constructions, which have come to be almost totally ignored, a new stimulus. This exhibition showed us another of his many-faceted capabilities as an artist.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Carolien Sticker