St. Gallen

Jurgen Partenheimer

Kunstmuseum St. Gallen

The catalogue of this show contains a reproduction of the invitation to Jürgen Partenheimer’s show at Artists Space in 1982; it pinpoints the deeper meaning of his work. In this photograph, the artist himself, standing at the center of a primitive seesaw, is shown matter-of-factly balancing a typewriter and a picture. The photo suggests that Partenheimer is nimbly maintaining an equilibrium between the two poles of verbal and visual language. However, as he lucidly demonstrates in his drawings, with their manifold inclusions of free or bound letters of the alphabet, his goal is not to pit verbal and pictorial logic against one another but to enrich each category with the specific quality of its counterpart. Figuratively speaking, Partenheimer’s closeness to language is reflected in the highly disciplined yet spontaneous form of his pictorial pieces and, of course, in his formats and his deliberately restrained technique. From this view, Partenheimer’s art is a poor one—one that resists the enticements of pictorial opulence, yet ultimately becomes an esthetic lure, a wealth of forms and constellations that are borne of the artist’s restraint.

The dialectical structure of Partenheimer’s drawings is very frequently expressed in a vertical or horizontal division of the paper or in the doubling of figurations. This produces a symmetry that makes the transformation of graphic configurations immediate and vivid. These are symmetries of non-equals, indeed almost of antipodes, that tackle a particular theme from various perspectives. The deviations are always discreet, for Partenheimer uses a greatly reduced formal lexicon: circles and ovals, squares and rectangles, lines and spots, as well as occasional bits of color.

Everything in Partenheimer’s drawings emanates from the line, which moves across the paper as a trail left by a thought or a pictorial idea. The line then concentrates itself into beams, occasionally outlining precisely defined forms or overflowing into an unnameable and yet familiar formal entity. The line also constitutes the dominant vehicle of expression, conveying the artist’s sensibilities, his mental composure, or his agitation. At times it can mark very definitely, indeed, can demarcate borders, while functioning elsewhere as a connection, as a vague path of dissolution, a disruption of borders. It is thus always evocative, conjuring up the world, and yet always managing to sidestep representation cunningly.

A Partenheimer drawing may seem to grow like an organic being: it starts somewhere at a given spot on the paper, burgeons, and then finds its way to an intrinsic formation. In these terms, the many surfaces here that are thoroughly covered with fingerprints are significant, as are the amorphous backgrounds created by frottage; they all supply a basic tenor, from which the drawing can be articulated as a melodic line. Much as Partenheimer plays with verbal language as an inspiring opposite, his drawings ultimately elude words. Even the narratives evoked in the suggestive titles of pictures never lead much further. While the picture aims at specific thoughts, they nonetheless transcend any mere denotation. These drawings suggest without stating; they express what can not be said.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.