Gerhard Mantz

Stadtische Galerie

In the hall of an early-baroque building in this late-medieval town, Gerhard Mantz placed 14 objects on two long walls. Their inner construction can’t be determined by their outer appearance, which usually consists of several polished layers of enamel in various colors. (Certain works are covered in felt or gleaming paint.) At first glance, the various surface colors seem to give the works a surrounding aura. This appearance is evoked by fluorescent paint on the hidden side of the objects. These reflections double the circular, spearlike, or irregular shapes of most of them, like an artificial visual echo. We know similar synthetic auras from photographic solorizations, or from Andy Warhol’s portraits, but here they are fixed in three dimensions.

The contrast between something looking like an aura and the synthetic means used to create such an impression demonstrates a calculated resistance against a too-direct magic or even metaphysical perception. Mantz undermines art’s attempt to transcend reality by founding his work on the conditions of the present. He avoids the suggestive historical allusions of myth, alchemy, and archeology, with all their mysterious implications; his sensibility is more Disneyland than authentically metaphysical. Mantz makes it easier to transcend material reality by playing with his cards on the table. In his work, irreality is not what it seems.

Mantz’s works remain tied to history by referring to a conventional problem of sculpture: they raise the question of their “real” extension. Obviously they are not limited by their material contours; the immaterial image surrounding them is doubtless an essential part of their presence. Mantz’s objects tend to evoke both sensual and mental perception. Several works are constructed as empty holes, whose black interiors frustrate our attempts to fathom them. (Are they, hollow or vaulted, concave or convex?) That these frustrations exist says something about the works’ unspectacular calmness—a calmness that longs for an understanding by the onlooker, whose diffuse expectations have to be transformed into a similarly concentrated condition. Then it becomes conceivable that the open, undefined limitations of the objects can be taken as a last radical question: how to define our own presence.

Uli Bohnen