New York

Jörg Immendorff

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

In Jörg lmmendorff’s paintings everything is either reified or fetishized. The inanimate comes alive, and the animate turn s to stone, a false idol. So many of his paintings appear to be cartoon so sculpture, because it literally objectifies and is so intimately connected with institutionalized homage; and cartoons, because they involve both caricature and animation. Immendorff’s figures , which include self-caricatures, are manic automatons controlled by forces outside themselves, usually either the church or the state.

In his Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius (Temptation of St. Anthony, 1985), the artist’s compulsion to paint (with oil pigments clearly labeled “bourgeois”) is literally depicted as a monkey at his back: appearing as a dressmaker’s dummy in evening clothes, lmrnendorff turns his back to his mirror reflection , that of a grinning ape, a mimicry of man and representative of unbridled sexuality and a stupid brute strength. In Immendorffs paintings even ideas are seen as mechanically projected, as in the pun of the movie camera in one of the Maoist “little red books” in Anbetung des Inhalts (Idol Worship, 1985); in one comer of the painting effigies of Castro and Lenin are encased in a vacuum tube gripped in the viselike hand of a robot, a symbol for the state.

To what extent these paintings exhort us to free the likes of Lenin , Castro, and Mao (whose portrait is worshiped by a prostrate artist in another painting titled Anbetung des Inhalts, 1985) from rigid conceptualization is unclear, as is the extent to which Immendorff implicates himself in the construction of golden calves for public worship. An interplay of certainties and uncertainties ensues. A pointed reference to Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, ca. 1485–1505, in Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius makes clear Irnmendorff’s linkage of degeneracy to the purveying of false images and sexuality. Bosch’s allegorical grouping of naked figures, above which a paintbrush has been curved into a glowing halo, is literally turn ed upside down by Imrnendorff to deal unequivocally with the ambiguous sexual meaning of the original. Elsewhere in the painting female nudes symbolize either corruption or corrupted desire. But does the pointedness of Immendorff’s use of the cliche of a black cook, which would be a racist image if it were less a caricature , allow one to believe in his ultimate faith in the fallacy of the image?

In Goldmachen (Making gold, 1985), a painting that focuses on the standards of two rigid ideologies-the hammer and sickle of Russia and the swastika of the Third Reich—Immendorff signs himself “Goldmacher,” or alchemist, and he has used the pseudonym “Wiedervereinigung” (reconciliation) in at least one earlier painting. Dialectic, the logic of fallacy, may well save the day: rather than the ironbound inflexibility associated with the anvil in Versuchung des Heiligen Antonius, Immendorff seems to be advocating the transmutations of a melting pot. Bosch may be Immendorffs example of how to transcend the pressures to conform to bourgeois standards of good painting, the “third term” between bourgeois esthetics and the worship of content being the deformation of allegory under the pressure of manic despair. The one thing dialectic can never do away with, however and Immendorffs self-mockingly pompous pseudonyms seem to acknowledge this—is the truth of self incrimination.

Jeanne Silverthorne