“Five German Sculptors”

Galerie Peter Pakesch

For more than a decade Peter Pakesch has been functioning as a kind of trapdoor for the work of West German artists, most recently that of Günther Förg, Georg Herold, Hubert Kiecol, Meuser, and Reinhard Mucha. Collectively, their work has provided a synopsis of the current trend in West Germany toward an art that is brash, intellectual, and precise—what I would like to call an “Aesthetik der Austrocknung” (esthetic of drying out)—as evidenced in a new reduction of materials, form, and subjective content. The confrontation with this rigorous esthetic has thrown the Vienna art world, with its predisposition toward a lush, expressive figuration, into as tate of confusion.

The works of these five artists are less an outgrowth of the German Expressionist tradition than a flare-up of the austere, exacting Bauhaus style. In this current mode of “sculptural installation,” calculations and materials are intimately wed (it is no coincidence that Meuser’s tacked-together boards and plastic sheeting recall technical drafting tools). Although this work is informed by a certain minimalist esthetic, it is not centered on purity of form or proportions; rather, it incorporates a qualitative contextual richness and a more traditional understanding of the nature/function of the object. Not Sol LeWitt but Richard Artschwager could serve as a guideline here. Thus the extreme reductiveness of this work always goes hand in hand with the imposition of bulky meanings.

In all but one instance—Kiecol’s Hohe Trepperecke (High corner staircase, 1985), the works in this exhibition occupy what could be termed “plastic space,” a more-or-less real space that is only loosely defined by discrete sculptural elements. This space is neither cohesive nor coherent; as we move through it we are led from one reproof to the next, unable to construct a congruent whole from the articulate fragments of meaning. In this sense, these works are “signals” that direct us toward meaning only to deny its assimilation; within this context, however, there is a broad range of inflections, both in their manners of address and in their methods of construction. Herold’s cynical, impudent Deutschsprächige Gipfel (German-language summit, 1985 ), a selection of underwear stretched over wire armatures and mounted on pedestals; Förg’s banal installation of out-the-window views photographically enlarged to scale; and Kiecol’s compressed architectural icon are rather blatant and simplistic. But Mucha’s ordered assemblage signals its intent in a coolly aggressive manner. An aura of subjective reminiscence, often evoked by railway station signs and other memorabilia, seems to underlie the brutal facticity of many of Mucha’s works. Dahlem-Eifel, 1985, comprises two discrete structural elements—a compartmentalized wooden packing case covered with plate glass and a larger, airless linoleum-on-wood box—mounted side-by-side on the wall at a slightly confrontational angle. Its title refers to a rural train station near Cologne. Despite rather obvious references, it would be inadequate to describe this work as merely an estheticization of the workaday world of the lower-middle classes. It is in effect a realignment of the relationship of the object and its esthetic representation. Isolated by the artist from their utilitarian context, common things be come representations (the Duchampian Readymade); these are then regrouped to create a new object. That is, artistic intervention activates the latent content of the objects, creating a new syntactic structure. It is a social revolution of sorts. Available, submissive materials are given new power by the artist; now domineering and demanding, they refute their common origins, throwing off the artist’s designatory and imperious hand and emphatically stating their arrival at a new cultural station.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.