Wainer Vaccari

Kunstverein; Galerie Artinizing

“I will repopulate this world, my friend: There shall be men, women, and animals, slightly insane creatures. I will hurl them into our bleak valleys, and they will always show us the hidden paths and places, the most drunken, most vice-ridden cities: no saints!” This promise is made to us by Wainer Vaccari, and indeed his paintings are a multivoiced choir of bodies, lusts, obsessions, intoxication, folly, madness, and desire, all crooning a sharp, earsplitting mockery of our modern faith in the autonomy of the individual. From above and below, from water and earth, from animal and instinct, energies invade the depicted bodies, turning Vaccari’s paintings into a cheerfully somber playground of orgiastic events. On the ground, men crawl about, having emerged from a hole, a subterranean world. They devote their full strength to the digging of more holes from which they draw nothing but rubble; they stop only to relish the sight of a naked woman or to guzzle greedily water from shallow saucers. These pictures seem to mark the end of the self and its dream of autonomy. The body, the earth, the juices, unleashed by uncontrollable forces, celebrate a Dionysian feast, a ruthless game with the imaginary self.

Vaccari’s paintings arouse the individual’s dormant yearning for the orgy that contains the essence of experience and, simultaneously, a dreadful truth: the submersion of the self into the moist warmth of the group, which releases us from our solitary existences as individuals. Unfortunately, this experience is never permanent, because the orgy cannot last. It can, however, be retained in memory. Friedrich Nietzsche led us along this road when he located the origin of art in the quest for the first orgiastic experience. Art replaces the orgy, it replaces the dreadful truth that bears witness to the incurable pain of the self on its journey toward individualization. “We have art in order not to be destroyed by truth,” according to Nietzsche. Vaccari dares to utter truths in his paintings, but the works contain something untrue in their manner of presentation, for that is the only way to make these truths bearable.

The untruthfulness of these paintings is inherent not in their content, but in their formal rendering. In his first works, done around 1982, Vaccari uses an old-fashioned narrative-mannerist style, one he simplified during subsequent years. The narrative is gradually overshadowed by formal constraints, until, in the most recent paintings, stylization triumphs over content. Lust is now expressed not by a distorted face but by a geometrically frozen body position, while obsession is expressed by repetition. Form encroaches more and more on content: heads become spheres, holes, dishes, and heads again. But Vaccari believes that there is no form that is not content, and in this respect, he feels a kinship with certain young American painters, especially Peter Halley.

In addition to this gallery show of Vaccari’s recent works, the Munich Kunstverein presented a retrospective of the artist’s paintings done between 1982 and 1988. The works were not arranged chronologically, so that an early, realistic narrative painting suddenly appeared next to a more abstract later one. The struggle waged here between realistic, figurative painting and abstract painting followed the same outline as the history of painting in the 20th century.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.