Siegfried Kaden

Galerie Schedle & Arpagaus

The accent of this exhibition lies on the Tagebuchblätter (Diary pages), drawings from 1971–83. They are accompanied by a number of small-format paintings from the early ’80s and by gouaches and painted graphics from 1985. While at first sight this selection may seem disparate, it soon turns out to be quite a meaningful presentation; almost peripherally, it characterizes Siegfried Kaden’s artistic sensibility in all its unruliness.

Kaden is an artist who, although working chiefly with traditional pictorial means, can scarcely be pigeonholed. He comes off as a sort of picture generator, whose output is essentially determined by the given work situation. Kaden seems moved by a highly spontaneous, almost obsessional impetus, whose origin is to be found in the realm of personal experience. His quest to express what concerns him on a private, existential level blends with a palpable skepticism about the very possibility of communicating. These doubts are revealed by the almost anarchistic quality of the draftsmanship and in the artist’s choice of simple materials. Kaden prefers to paint on found surfaces, such as wall paper, and he uses industrial house paints. He does his drawings with any sort of pencils and ballpoint pens, usually on cheap paper that shows the greasy traces of life. In so doing, he participates in a consumerist esthetic of poverty or ugliness, an esthetic from which he also wishes to remain aloof.

An essential part of the fascination exerted by these works is the tension between Kaden’s demand for honesty and the nature of his technical skill. In a sense, he materializes his skepticism in the objectivity of the artwork. This set of problems—typical of many European artists in Kaden’s generation—may find depressing utterance, but usually it is put forth with a kind of inscrutable humor, one that makes the frail, artistic construction totter. An ominous and obsessional component is no doubt present, but it is always challenged and reduced to a grotesque.

This approach can be observed quite clearly in Hannibal, 1988, a book published in connection with the current show. The work is a facsimile edition of the drawing pad on which Kaden, during the summer of 1978, recorded the adventures of a hare named Hannibal. The associative tale-telling is maintained and articulated in a narrative structure that ultimately makes the story’s breaks and digressions all the more visible and obvious. The episodes of Hannibal’s life keep gaining independence, erupting into the sheer delight of drawing. Kaden thoroughly plumbs a pictorial idea, exaggerating its content so that the image almost evaporates. Like the Tagebuchblätter, the book leads us into Kaden’s continually erupting vocabulary.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.