New York

Jürgen Partenheimer

Lorence-Monk Gallery

Jürgen Partenheimer is both an artist and a writer. Unlike D. H. Lawrence, who was a novelist and sometime painter, or David Smith, who was a sculptor and occasionally wrote poetry, Partenheimer devotes equal attention to writing and painting. In this regard, his work is comparable to Marcel Duchamp’s. The difference is that Partenheimer doesn’t reject art’s utopian, metaphorical capacity. His work can be described as a map of the sites where imagination, thinking, and perception overlap. At a time when many artists are following Duchamp’s example and making detached art that rejects any possibility of faith, Partenheimer is an anomaly. He believes in art’s ability to transcend the artist’s limitations, and in this shares something with Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee. Both his art and his writing show affinities with the fabulist tales of Jorge Luis Borges and with the works of the French Surrealists, especially Paul Eluard, whose seemingly simple poems are charged with elemental metaphors.

Partenheimer is a German artist who shows marked affinities with Klee and the 19th-century German Romantic tradition. This exhibition consisted of paintings and works on paper. In all of the work Partenheimer employs a vocabulary of symbolic abstract signs, which owe something to the visual systems of preliterate culture. In contrast to artists such as Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, he is spare in both his use of materials and his visual language. He doesn’t equate thick paint with either an existential state or emotional sincerity.

Partenheimer seems to belong to no stylistic group, and his work has little in common with the neo-Expressionist style of much contemporary German art that has dominated public attention within the last several years. In this, he is like Norbert Prangenberg, another young German abstract artist who explores the relationship between light and dark in a symbolic way. Partenheimer’s art arises out of the conviction that we are all capable of achieving a contemplative, dreamlike state where the boundaries separating us from nature begin to dissolve. The abstract symbols are used to locate the contours where one thing becomes another and where identity both shrinks and expands simultaneously. Among the recurring symbols are a linear oval or arc and a wide band of irregularly placed daubs and smudges, as in Die Sonne so breit wie ein Menschenfuss (The sun is as wide as a human foot, 1987). The viewer might begin by equating these symbols with intelligence and the earth, but after a while other connections and associations come forth. One of Partenheimer’s strengths is the resonance and range of metaphorical possibilities that he is able to achieve with a spare, largely linear vocabulary.

Reviewed by John Yau.