Sibylle Ungers

Sibylle Ungers’ drawings are emphatically unpretentious, yet secure in their forms and compositions. The artist here uses mixed media—charcoal, oil crayon, pastel, watercolors, and gouache—in 10 medium-sized and 11 smaller formats. Employing just a few basic geometric forms, Ungers develops her suggestive, colorful draftsmanship until it achieves a painterly fusion. With delicate smudges and powerful, constructed contours, she creates work that occupies a status between hard and soft, closed and open. The sculptural adhesion of the figure to the background is illusionary in some spots, completely dissolved in others. Some surfaces are blurry and mysteriously obliterated, while others use line to inscribe definite boundaries of form.

The theme of these drawings is both traditional and timeless: the paradox of seeing the object in art per se, the conflict between two equally justified meanings. As a result, every drawn figure seems to exist on the surface, but also to contain itself as a visible element. This duplicity of the object’s existence constitutes the rational nucleus of Ungers’ drawings, and also the wealth of their intuitively wrought sensations. All the works have only subtle differences. The 11 small-format pieces vary in perspective, and the medium-format pieces concentrate on modifying facadelike fronts or constructions that resemble stage sets. The overall reference of each work to the simple constructional principle of architecture is obvious. Yet the drawings share a more profound relationship to painting—specifically, they tell us about the construction and dissolution of two-dimensional form.

In the course of her efforts, sculpturally oriented forms occasionally conflict with their two-dimensional manifestations. And in traditional Expressionist manner, Ungers formalizes the lights and darks contained in her pieces and seems to tie them to concealed events: she “Caligarizes” them. But whenever her work attains its desired synthesis, the result is a calm poetics of form. Without intending any sensational exposés, these drawings aim directly at a unity of effect and cognition. In this unity, the decisive element remains the surface. Ungers courageously refuses to yield to the impulse of setting up perfect pseudo-facades in front of real circumstances.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.