Theo Lambertin

Ernesto + Krips Galerie

Theo Lambertin has an antiprogram. Where interpreters like to discuss his work in terms of subjectivity, poetry, psychology, and mystery(the “French disease”), Lambertin actively disappoints such expectations. His paintings are about objectivity, they are prosaic, ironic, and they flirt with banality. Most of all, they are political, though not in the sense of trying to give direct commentaries on the current social situation. Some of the paintings consist of acrylic on photographic linen, confronting the viewer with at least two motifs. One, nearly unidentifiable, is the subject of a photograph—sometimes a human being or an unimportant object; the other, mainly in light-brown and white color, is a nonobjective painting, covering large sections of the photographic backdrop. All this could seem like an arbitrary juxtaposition of normally disregarded reality with generic abstraction. But there are one or two significant proofs of concentrated work and carefully pursued intention, proofs that bring the whole arrangement into focus. In one piece, three fircones are mounted on the outside edges of the picture, creating very specific associations. The title, written on the picture, gives another hint: Handelsübliches Bestechungsbild (Deutsch) (Picture of Corruption as Usual in Commercial Life [German], 1988). The photograph’s distanced objectivity and the occupation with prosaic subjects, such as corruption or, in another work, misery, is always dealt with ironically. The undramatic manner of presentation and choice of motifs provokes a consideration of banality.

It would be easy (and not wholly incorrect) to see Lambertin’s work as typically German, and in fact the artist himself mentions Joseph Beuys and Blinky Palermo as influences. Yet Lambertin is also international in his influences and concerns. A purely formal comparison would show parallels to Georg Herold and Gunther Förg as well as to Julian Schnabel and David Salle. But where these artists are often discussed in the context of “myth,” Lambertin makes it clear that it would be more fitting to talk about his work in terms of ideology—that is its political nucleus. (In a broader sense it would be interesting to check in how many cases the word “myth” could be replaced by the word “ideology.”) Lambertin used catalogue reproductions of Rainer Gross’ work to produce 10 gouaches, which were also on view. These pieces also explore the fields of, and the differences between, aura and banality. Like the acrylic paintings and some stretcherlike wooden racks, which were hung beside them, they disappointed the expectations of those who expected to see a “picture,” in the way that Herold’s objects do with those who expect to see a “sculpture.”

Lambertin achieves a neodadaistic moment through the provoking titles and the scanty elementariness of his work. And just as Dada was an international movement with regional tendencies, so Lambertin represents a Rhenish voice in an international tendency—a Rhenish voice that reminds us, if not in its esthetic appearance then, at least in its humorous relationship to language, of the early Max Ernst.

Uli Bohnen