Alex Kasseböhmer

Galerie Monika Spruth

The 12 paintings in this exhibition by the Düsseldorf artist Axel Kasseböhmer were related by a single concept. This was a continuation of a principle elaborated in his earlier works: that an artist’s ideas about theoretical issues of painting should be recognizable in his or her style. As before, these new paintings (from 1987) focus on the possibilities of the still life. But while the paintings in his previous exhibitions incorporated familiar elements of the works of well-known artists (from Zurburán’s light to Picasso’s animal skulls), here he has combined various styles of 20th-century still-life painting with elements of decor and pattern, sometimes on wood, sometimes on canvas.

The central image in most of Kasseböhmer still lifes is an old-fashioned coffeepot (or sometimes a goblet or a carafe), superimposed on a wallpaper-like painted and/or collaged background. This background plays on different types of patterns and decor, and the paintings’ titles refer to the particular pattern used, as in Stilleben mit Totenköpfen (Still life with skulls), or to the central object, as in Stilleben mit Karaffe (Still life with carafe). Kasseböhmer paints part of each vessel image directly onto the surface of the wood, but the rest of the image is first carved into the wood and then painted—“worked” in the truest sense of the word. The entire surface of every painting—even the largest, Schwarz-Gelbes Stilleben (Black-yellow still life)—has been subjected to a labor-intensive, craftsmanlike manipulation, the signs of which are quite evident but not altogether of the same level of quality. There seems to have been a conscious degradation of the “craft” factor during the production of these pictures. One becomes a witness to the gradual abolition of the still life within the framework of each picture.

Dissected into patterns and planes, each of these works disintegrates into individual parts, and yet, through its refined execution it becomes a unified object and integrates itself as a complete picture into the whole of the exhibition. Kasseböhmer places all of these processes clearly before the viewer’s eyes. Thus this exhibition reinvestigates the roots of the traditionally beautiful still-life painting, at once decorated and decorative, the classical spatiality of which has been given up here in favor of a wallpaper-pattern flatness and Pop art seriality. (Even the titles are appropriately serial.) In contrast to his earlier still lifes, which were decorated with painterly quotations, Kasseböhmer gave these a more generic sort of decoration. These still lifes are the products of solid dialectical (but not ivory tower) analysis.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.