Peter Roehr

Galerie Paul Maenz

The principle of a calculated, axiomatic serial montage is the logo of West German artist Peter Roehr, who died in 1968 at the age of 24. For the 20th anniversary of his death, the Galerie Paul Maenz offered a survey of his work, recalling this artist’s remarkably self-contained overall conception. The inevitable and catchy essence of Roehr’s art is revealed once again in the 15 pieces here.

Roehr’s oeuvre consistently demonstrates the same principle: film footage, consumer objects, letters of the alphabet, texts, and advertising photos, in precise, linear, and completely lucid series, are turned into elements of uniform, extremely disciplined pictorial structures. Mounted together without any commentary, they are part of an effort to “escape the metaphysical conception of art,” according to Rudi Fuchs. The Volkswagen hubcap, the printed photograph of a cup of Maxwell House coffee, or various other consumer items are thus appropriated by the artist in series of 20, 30, 40, or more.

The splintered West German art scene of the ’60s remained relatively untouched by Roehr’s conceptual approach. Thus retrospectively, his work fits more into an international than a national context. This is obvious in his parallels to the methods of Andy Warhol or Jan Dibbets. As an early appropriator, Roehr took the mass-produced pictures of advertising and mounted them grouped but otherwise unaltered. In the process, the individual image lost its meaning, but gained an entirely new one through the calculated recurrence of its identity with other elements. This new meaning concealed the conceptual approach he was taking in evolving a nonrational pictorial space and structure; in practical terms, it functioned as a continuum in time and space. In all Roehr’s work the individual manifestation of an element is far less important than its suggested and simulated continuity. They both expose and neutralize the artificiality of the prefabricated objects or photographs.

The various pieces in the exhibition—such as OB-I49, 1967, which consists of 36 Volkswagen hubcaps—make it clear that the unqualified visual delight Roehr takes in consumer images and objects and their transfer to art constitute his actual contribution to the esthetics of his time. However, Roehr’s quiet and reductivist works represent not an ironic resistance to semblance and signification; they are a terse rejection of it. By appropriating Madison Avenue photographs, trademarks of the serial products of consumerism, Roehr tries to escape the limitations of individual image-finding and, ideally, to attain the freedom of all existing images. In attempting to elude the metaphysical conception of art, Roehr moves from concrete representation to pure self-promotion.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.