Jürgen Partenheimer

Westfälischen Kunstverein

“Der Ort des Bogens” (the site of the arc) was the title of this exhibition of Jurgen Partenheimer’s drawings. The arc is a fragment of the most harmonious of all geometric signs, the circle, and thus finds its place within the circle. It achieved its apex of immoderation in the classical imperial arch; its greatest utility as an instrument of death—a bow—with the arrow In the spiral, it found directionless ascent; in the clock, the constancy of endlessly flowing time; in the wheel, the stability of perpetual motion. Nature knows no right angles, and, as a portion of the circle, the arc is nature’s fundamental unit of expression and its mythopoetic, intellectual/philosophical embodiment. The movements of the sun, the rainbow, and the horizon are natural arcs which have inspired poetry and science throughout the epochs of human thought and imagination.

It is against this background that Partenheimer’s drawings find their poetic power as signs that have become displaced and now exist only in the realm of eternal wishes. Ours is not the first age to go in search of the mystery of the harmonious circle; a never-ending human pilgrimage has sought the center of the circle, where nothing and everything, life and death, movement and motionlessness are one. Using color sparingly, Partenheimer incorporates in his drawings the whole range of meaning-seeking and meaning-giving signs and arranges them with the greatest possible degree of freedom and density. The obvious and the esoteric, that which struggles toward meaning and that which risks chaos, coalesce into signs and stream across the paper. In one drawing, an hourglass, appropriately indicated by triangles in mirror image, is enclosed in a contour that rounds the square into an oval. The point where the triangles meet is the center of a horizontally positioned ellipse. As if the sands of time could flow from above to below and then, defying the laws of nature, could climb back up, a spiraling line runs up and down through a funnel, uniting with itself in a never-ending motion. Nothing in this drawing agrees with the laws of science, with their causality and linear progress. Partenheimer’s images are simultaneously mythical incantations, specters from the world of magic breaking through the walls of normality, and scientific measurements of the volumes and masses of the artist’s own poetic order.

These drawings have to do with the spirit of utopia, though they disavow the rational credo of utopianism. They do not emanate from obedience to laws of any kind, but from resistance to linear thought; they are a protest against the forced connection between order and harmony. The fact that the site of the arc is the circle does not hinder one from seeking the center in a nomadically wandering sign language, in destabilized harmonies.

Partenheimer’s sign-poems are consciously childlike. They allude to those age-old connections between abstract signs and their erotic interpretations—encodings of mythic rituals that conjure up the arc that spans life and death. The delicate incantational beauty of Partenheimer’s drawings results not from esthetic stylization but from their ambiguous meaning and the fragile, formal quality of the shapes. Unlike the predilection of the zeitgeist for the loud, extravagant waste of momentary energies, these drawings propose a utopia of timeless human energies through abstract signs. Can they put a dent in the zeitgeist? Who knows. The legitimacy of a protest is not measured by its success. One suspects that Partenheimer’s quiet dialogue with these signs—signs used too flippantly by the artists of the zeitgeist—is motivated in part by a desire to protect their timeless energy from the cynicism of indifference arid of science, as well as from death in the archives.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.