Johannes Geuer

This exhibition offered a series of 33 identically sized paintings by Johannes Geuer. Completed between 1986 and 1988, they bear the overall title “Polaroids.” The title is used metaphorically: the paintings are not necessarily based on Polaroid photographs. Geuer takes a conceptual approach; he provides a framework in order to project his own images as visions and to keep them captive. The immediately recognizable photographic subject matter of these paintings forms a thematic context: not only does it supply a self-evident touch of privacy, the character of a family album documenting the most disparate events, but it also suggests the works’ authentic reality. Thus the paintings operate on two levels: that of context, by integrating the most varied elements into a continuum of experience, and that of perception, by constantly confronting the painted images—though in a detached way—with the notion of photographic reproduction. Despite all the wit of these paintings, they always maintain a skepticism toward their own reality or truth—one in which the specific unreality of real Polaroids plays an essential role. These dynamics are played out most directly in two paintings: Polaroid No. 1, 1987, where a painter appears in front of an easel, cast in the typically greenish tone of a developing Polaroid, and Polaroid No. 4, 1986–87, where, instead of a head, an old Polaroid bellows camera peers out of a coat collar. To some extent, this camera is the instant-picture head of the painter, whose collected pictures of the world gradually take shape on the canvas in a different kind of development process, somewhat like a gradually emerging Polaroid photograph.

Yet these very examples clearly indicate that the artist uses photography here only as a background strategy, in order to articulate the position of the painter or image-inventor in the shadow of the universal acceptance of photography. Polaroid No. 16, 1988, could easily be identified as a self-portrait: a painter stands, boldly raising a brush and shieldlike palette and rapidly sketching in the air. This painting-within-a-painting is a mirage whose level of reality cannot be determined precisely. It is not clear whether the painter is acting in a kind of glass house or even in front of a mirror. Yet, in Geuer, reflections and transparencies in the broadest sense of the word not only contribute to the precariousness of meaning, they also offer subtle allusions to the various levels of reality in a painting. Thus Polaroid No. 12, 1988, is highly confusing: a nude rests on a sort of leather sofa, which the painter is working on in the painting, thus shifting the status of the model. In the face of these paintings, the recourse to the reality of dreams is obvious, and indeed, Geuer falls back on dreams. But he is interested chiefly in the problem of depicting the various levels of phenomena, as manifested in the field of experience. To an extent, Geuer paints snapshots of the states of consciousness of a painter whose mind still lingers on the moment that has just passed. The instant of perception becomes, figuratively, a slow-motion take, in which the deviation from one external image to another appears in thoroughly formulated clarity—captured by an artist who sees himself less as an analyst than as a witness marveling at the wonders of phenomena. Only Geuer’s profound sense of the comic protects him against becoming speechless at the sight of such a spectacle.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.