Manfred Stumpf

Galerie ak

A lean monk, his body hardened by intense physical and spiritual exercise, nearly always nude (the habit doesn’t make the monk), moves about in a universe of dry symbols, of cosmic trajectories, of seemingly powerful machines. The monk is alone, now and then he looks about, he masturbates. Self-portrait and representation of the double, the Angel, projection of desire when desire is a desire for oneself. This is the monodic story of Manfred Stumpf, refined yet hardened by a sharp and banal comic-strip touch (not accidentally it’s a precise reference to something said by Moebius, the great French cartoonist). These small 1986 drawings have more or less the same motif, to the point where they seem exactly the same. The show’s monkish spirit invites a series of observations about the religious iconography that runs through Western, and particularly European, art with increasing insistency, especially since the mid ’70s.

The final outbursts of religious iconography were made by the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work was nevertheless redolent with sensual worldliness; then, beginning with the Impressionists, the religious was put out of mind in order to concentrate on an increasingly sharp and profound materialist vision. Few of the artists who have “mattered” during the last hundred years have dedicated themselves completely—or even occasionally—to religious subject matter, and yet more often, and with greater validity, they have assumed the subject matter’s inner stance rather than its external simulacra. The waning of “ideology” has perhaps contributed to the resurgence of religious figuration: with the sacredness of contemporary mythologies reduced, beginning with the Modern, there is an attempt to revive—in religious symbolism more than in spirit—a series of emotive suggestions capable of soliciting the individual and collective sensibility anesthetized by the mass media and the culture industry The punks’ fetishism; the ethnic painting of Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, A.R. Penck, and Anselm Kiefer; the neoprimitivism of certain members of the trans-avant-garde, from the highs of Enzo Cucchi to the depressions of Mimmo Paladino—these express a nostalgic desire for the Middle Ages, and conquer from the right (to use political terminology) that mystical-religious tension that in strong materialist vein also marked the neo-avantgarde, from Yves Klein to Joseph Beuys, from Hermann Nitsch to the other Wiener Aktionismus artists. But in those cases a strong adherence to the importance of material prevailed, to the self-awareness of experience and, in substance, to the archetypal models of an elementary and primary spiritualism anterior to any symbolic schematization, to any figural systemization, to any ecclesiastic institutionalization.

In the case of Stumpf, however, an assumption of specifically codified symbols within a religious realm results in more or less complex emotive and spectacular effects that completely refute self-awareness. Without any necessity for initiation or learning—history has abundantly seen to the comprehension and diffusion of these signs—one not only sees oneself through them, but an entire repressed area is stimulated, left dormant in the consciousness of individuals by the rhythms and phantasms of existence in this moment of Western society. Despite the fundamental cynicism, at times openly declared, at work here, and at other times the ambiguity of an acidic irony, there is always a sort of revindication of the obscure, the shadowy, the pulsation of death. The anticipation of the year 2000, the apocalypse,the end of the second millennium, and the atomic-ecological catastrophe is too banal an analogy to be brought up, but it is nonetheless present in this sort of artistic endeavor. Such is the source of the distinctly devotional character assumed by this interpolation of iconic signs drawn directly from the figural catalogue of religion, even when the assumption is apparently blasphemous and iconoclastic.

It’s clear that all this goes well beyond Stumpf’s individual works and, even more so, this particular exhibition; the works reflect something far from morbid, a significant indication. In general, what we have here is a phenomenology in progress, one more rooted in fashion, a creeping symptom that has achieved the hortus conclusus of art but that undoubtedly pertains to the more ample social, cultural, and political phenomenology that invests, with a very different and greater energy, the world we live in, and within which we all show signs of weakening.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.