Günther Förg

The installation design of this recent show shed light on the complexity of Günther Förg’s work, which continues to resist stylistic categorization. (One is reminded of the intermediary-form concepts of the early Constructivists.) The museum’s central gallery was both the site of the exhibition and a work of art in itself. The wall opposite the gallery entrance served as the ground for an untitled wall painting, a graduated arrangement of colored rectangles that resembled a steep stairway; above these, a dark green band ran the length of the wall. The remaining walls were hung with monumental photographs framed under glass; centrally placed among these was the image of a circular stairway, photographed at such an extreme angle, and with such cool drama, that it created the sensation of a whirlpool.

Corresponding to the stairway as a site of ascent and descent was a view along a ramp into an Italian children’s hospital; it exercised that inexplicable fascination of an indefinable site by virtue of the unoccupied beds that were just visible beyond the ramp’s curve. An antipode to this light-filled architectural shot was provided by two black-and-white photographs of the interior stairways in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, imposing architectonic shafts that led one’s gaze upward to barely discernible, enigmatic doorways. Mounted between these were two color portraits of young women, entitled Ika and Michaela, both 1986. These women, captured in poses of provocative concealment, dominated the exhibition with their eyes, seeming to question the meaning of it all. Yet they were themselves so over-determined by the artificiality of Förg’s staging that the viewer had no real access to them.

Particularly striking here, as in most of Förg’s installations, was the aloof yet seductive character of the overall exhibition design. It proceeded very deliberately from the photographs themselves—their large-scale format and majestic frames—to the color treatment of the rooms, the clear articulation of the site’s architectural givens through the use of color as both surface embellishment and autonomous structure. There was a carefully orchestrated dialogue between architecture as monument and as occupied site that addressed the human portrait as both a neutralized object and a focus of inquiry. The fact that the step principle and the real architectural “object” of the stairs played such a prominent role subtly reinforced the existential dimension of the work, which lay hidden behind its poised façade.

It is Förg’s seductive estheticization of the commonplace—the heightening of the familiar through its seemingly arbitrary fragmentation and the use of a slightly skewed perspective—that captivates us yet also makes us ill at ease. The frankly decorative wall painting and the brilliant monumental photographs directed our gaze to and through something that, for all its familiarity, remained alien. This perforation and breaking apart of space, the view through it to something indecipherable, was the subject of a 1985 series of watercolors housed in a small side room. The color black, enticingly soft and flowing, dominated. At close hand it revealed a graduated color field. One could see in these drawings, briefly,a series of views from a window, or frames of a film. And yet each was really nothing more than the artificial preservation of a passing, indefinable moment from the all-consuming blackness of space. Here, seduction and reserve, the expansion and delimiting of space, entered into an uneasy union.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.