Richard Paul Lohse

Museum Fridericianum

This retrospective of Richard Paul Lohse’s over-60-year body of work was in two parts, one showing the artist’s early and serial pieces, the other showing his modular works. The retrospective began with a colorful, quasi-expressionistic still life, Kaffeekanne (Coffee pot, ca. 1925), jumped to a more geometricized work, Vogelbild 2 (Bird picture 2, 1935), and really got going with the completely geometrical, diagonally oriented work of the mid ’40s. In these pieces, Lohse treats geometrical color units as autonomous themes, connected only as rhythmic series. Indeed, he transcends the materiality of the color modules through his sense of rhythm, although he claims his systems paintings have no transcendent, spiritual import. Here, Lohse shows that he is a master mechanic of color construction, with a certain flair for articulating the oblique relations between colors. His works are grids, and the final, truly masterful ones (Lohse died while the exhibition was on) are giant grids. Sometimes Lohse uses the square, but he always breaks it up—recomposes it—so that its axiomatic quality, the sense of its predetermination, is forgotten. Indeed, he gives the sense of total control over his work.

Lohse’s art has a clarity that once seemed rebellious—antidotal to the expressionistic gesture—but that now seems overfamiliar and rigid. Yet his work, if only through its incredible constructive variety, suggests the limitless, even lyrical, possibilities inherent in color combinations—even within set geometrical form. In some pieces there is a sense of ecstatic intricacy, as though one were lost in a labyrinth of color relations even while moving in a utopian world of straight paths. Lohse overcomes the sense of predestination and the pseudo-meditational quality of so much geometrical color art, such as Josef Albers’. He does so, not the way Frank Stella did with his early paintings, through a puzzling little confusion at the center of the scheme, suggesting that it was all along a game, but through sheer complexity and intensity of color relationships. He maintains overall order, but the boldness with which he places different modules—wildly discrepant in size and color—next to each other, and makes them work together without losing their autonomy, is a convincing demonstration of the esthetic success sheer manipulation can produce.

Lohse has staged major dramas on a tight geometrical stage. For all their nonobjectivity, these dramas have an expressive potency that is as enigmatic as any generated by the expressionism to which Lohse was originally committed. One might say that he tamed his expressive power by locating it geometrically, but his is a deceptive domestication, for Lohse’s best works are beside them- selves with a passion for complex order, sometimes hierarchical in import, more often not. Lohse’s art may be explicable—many drawings, full of technical instructions, show us how Lohse carefully constructed his works—but it is neither perceptually nor emotionally resolvable.

Donald Kuspit